Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Anyway, today I was addressing Christmas cards. They're one of my favorite holiday traditions. Back when I was a newlywed, receiving Christmas cards addressed to 'Mr. and Mrs.' was an especially big thrill. Now days, I'm not sure young marrieds have that same feeling. Of course, there aren't very many people that actually send letters or cards anymore.
A lot of folks feel like a general, generic greeting on Facebook or twitter or whatever social media platform they're using is sufficient. They sort of list of bunch of reasons like they're saving postage or saving trees or saving something. That's okay. I say live and let live.
I send cards unless I'm not well enough. It's my annual 'yes, I'm still alive' notification to relatives who might not be on the Internet. I have a lot of those in my family. I usually include a note or even a letter sharing our news. Sometimes I add pictures.
I know folks are busy this time of year, but here's my thought on that. We take time--and spend money--on those things we find important. So this is one of my 'important' traditions. I may not put up a tree or decorate the house because those things only affect me. But a Christmas card is a long distance touch, one household to another. It takes a little time and a little thought and truthfully, minimal postage (about the price of a fancy coffee) to reach out and say, "You're important enough to me that I took the time to send you a card."
For those of you who don't do cards, I still wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or whatever day you celebrate. May you have a lovely holiday.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Stop it. Stop posting idiotic crap on your social media pages. NO ONE cares how you greet folks, whether you call it a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree, what songs you sing, or any of that other bullfeathers. No one really cares what kind of cups some coffee place serves their product in. If folks quit spreading this garbage around the internet, it would go away. Think about it--you're helping spread dissension and hate.
If you want a tree, get one. Decorate it however you wish. Say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'. About ninety percent of the population won't even hear you because they're busy trying to survive. When you're worried about having food next week or wondering where you're going to sleep, you just don't have the energy to worry about what color a coffee cup is.
Pressing 'share' on some dubious article, written by some group no one knows is an act of laziness. I repeat. No one cares. If you're worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, then I'll tell you the true way.
Feed the hungry. Don't just empty all the cans of no-name veggies and expired food from your pantry for the food drive. Kick in some money. Food banks desperately need real dollars instead of stuff they can't use. Consider. If you don't want to eat it, why would anyone else?
Care for the destitute. Do you know how many people in our country are homeless, living in tents, sleeping in cars, surviving on the street? Do you know what the homeless need? Basic necessities. Socks. Soap. Tooth brush and tooth paste. Toilet paper. Comb. Razors. Shampoo. Warm coat, hat, gloves. Oh, yeah. Food.
Protect the elderly. Check up on them. Make sure they have enough to eat. Offer to take them to their appointments. Spend time visiting. Value them for their contributions.
If you profess to be a Christian, then you'll be following Jesus' commandment to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words--be selfless, loving, giving. All the rest of it is just useless distraction. I'm pretty sure Christ didn't have Christmas trees, decorations, present orgies, or gluttonous feasts. Didn't he command us to go out into the byways and invite the homeless in to eat? Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if no one was in need?
Instead of worrying about unimportant things, why not start posting about food pantries and homeless shelters that need help? This Christmas, why not talk to your family about giving up their gifts for someone who has nothing? Do it up right. Pick a family to sponsor. Buy the gifts. Wrap them. And don't forget a box of groceries. I can absolutely guarantee they will never forget it for the rest of their lives. I know my brothers and I will never forget the Christmas we were on the receiving end of such a gift. It's a life changing event.
That's the meaning of Christmas.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
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. Every Christmas the kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
It's snowing here today so this one seemed appropriate! 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.
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.”
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 stands 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.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
More than any other season, the end of the year orgy of togetherness is most difficult for those who are not 'blessed' with friends and family. At least that is the conventional wisdom. I'm not so sure about the statistics. I believe it's all about expectations and needs.
For some, a nice quiet day alone, doing what the heart desires with minimum effort, can be a great gift. I have several friends across the globe who are 'onlies', some by choice, others through circumstance. I have observed that those who truly don't want to be alone on holidays make an effort to be with other folks. One person I know spends holidays feeding the homeless. Another prepares a feast and invites other onlies to share it.
Over the years I've been blessed with holidays I spent with a multitude of relatives and I've also had others alone. One is not better than the other. One Christmas seventy of my nearest and dearest sat down to dinner. It was a spectacular experience. But dare I admit I've reached a place in my life when three or four friends sharing a quiet dinner is more my style?
I think we've let that Norman Rockwell painting influence our expectations to the point of silliness. Do we really need to cook enough food for an army so we can spend time with people we don't even like? Are we so determined to deny the truth--the painful truth--that many of us dread spending time with extended family?
I once had a conversation with my father about how things were with our ancestors. They didn't travel long distances to share a meal on a specific day. Heck, often, families were so far flung they might not see each other for years. Holidays (if celebrated) included everyone on the homestead, related or not. And if family came to visit...say in August or March, well then there was a dinner and conversation.
I wonder how it would be if we went back to small congenial gatherings, or even better, just stayed at home with our loved ones, spending time together? What if we banned electronics for that day? What if we planned for surplus spending on food to go to a food bank or homeless shelter? What if we invited that neighbor who lives alone to join us for dinner? Often, folks who spend holidays alone are that way exactly because no one invited them to join them. After all, most of us don't just show up on our own. So are we observant enough, compassionate enough to share our bounty and good fortune with others?
Instead of packing up a food basket for a disadvantaged family, why not invite them to join in with our celebrations? Then send them home with the leftovers so they have not one meal, but several?
Technology hasn't brought us closer. It's provided the means and opportunity to foster great loneliness and alienation. Ultimately, our unrealistic expectations leave us with dissatisfaction and sadness at the end of the day. We wearily return to our homes, put the too generous leftovers away, do the mountain of dishes, and wonder why we don't feel any joy. Maybe...maybe, one isn't the loneliest number.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
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..."
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
At last, we reached the day we had to leave. All vacations have to end. And lo, when we woke up, it was snowing like crazy! Well, now, we couldn't possibly leave without the kids taking the opportunity to play in the snow.
Did it matter that no one had snow gear? Absolutely not. Grandma produced heavy socks for them to use as mittens. And breadbags over their shoes substituted for boots. The boys wore Grandpa's extra hats. And Grandma and Grandpa joined in the snowman competition.
Our youngest child was only six months old, but she couldn't be left out so if you look very carefully you'll see her perched between the two snowmen on the left. She's that pink blog.
An hour later, dry and warm, we were on the road home. We had quite an adventure because of our delay to play. In Oklahoma, the Interstate was closed. We didn't have a dime on us, but the Holiday Inn agreed to take a post-dated check. And all the meals were added to our room bill. Can you imagine that happening now? Of course, almost everyone in the hotel was from Houston. The folks across the hall from us lived in our same subdivision.
The next day, we slithered through Dallas/Ft. Worth on ice covered roads, but we arrived home safely by evening. Was it worth it? Oh, yeah. Every single hair-raising second!
Monday, December 4, 2017
Finally, we were on the plane, taking off. I'm pretty sure I left my stomach in Chicago. It took a while for it to catch up with us. We landed in Phoenix after sunset. I remember looking out the window at all the colored lights twinkling in the darkness. It was an amazing sight.
We were a bit put out when we discovered our luggage didn't make the trip with us. Oh, we coped. But I learned a valuable lesson. Never get on a plane without a spare change of clothing. It took the airline company two days to locate our suitcases.
We enjoyed the visit with my grandparents, but for me the highlight was our daily walks to the main street in town where the hunk treated me to tacos from Taco Bell. They were such a novelty, though of course now they're all over the country.
We picked oranges and grapefruit from Grandpa's trees in the back yard. And had ribbon candy from the tin Grandma kept in the refrigerator. The hunk and Grandpa spent time in Grandpa's wood shop. Grandma taught me embroidery on gingham. And before we were ready it was time to go home.
The trip home wasn't nearly as exciting...or scary, though landing at O'Hare was quite an experience. And when I look at the few pictures that have survived through the years, I can't believe we were ever that young.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
The shack was the smallest home on the short gravel road. At first glance its origins as a storage shed were obvious. A quick second look revealed the crooked mismatched windows and a shadowy doorway with the torn screen door that flapped idly in the cold fitful wind.
Inside it was dark and cold, so cold the water dregs in a dirty cup on a crate next to the sagging bed had a thin skin of ice. The man stretched out in the bed struggled to breathe, wheezing and groaning with each breath. He shivered as he huddled beneath ragged blankets and two old, dirty coats piled on him for warmth. Snow flakes whirled through the broken window pane above the bed, settling in the worn fabric folds covering him.
In the tiny bathroom, a desperate conference occupied the old man’s companions. Harold the rat moderated, earnestly leading the discussion about what to do for Otto, their human sleeping in the next room.
"He needs a doctor," Harold growled. "We need to call 911."
"No one will come because none of us can tell them what's wrong." Sally Squirrel sighed, close to losing her patience. Harold just wouldn't listen. "In the TV shows, the operator always asks what the emergency is. We can't tell them."
Mick, the chipmunk tentatively cleared his throat. "Siggy could bark."
Harold's whiskers bristled and he snorted in disgust. "And what good will that do?" One ear, ragged and torn, twitched in agitation.
"It always worked for Lassie," Mick's wife, Daffy retorted while pulling her scrap of blanket closer to her thin chest. "It worked for Benjy, too."
"Those are TV dogs. Of course it worked. TV isn't real, you know," Siggy woofed softly. "I don't mind barking, mind you, but I doubt that it would do much good. Besides, even if the emergency people came, that wouldn't solve our problem. How are we going to let them know who he is? How are they going to know he's the Christmas Angel? If they just think he's a bum, nobody will ever know how generous and unselfish he is. And his family might not find him."
Gloom settled over the small group. Then Daffy hesitantly offered, "If we could get his treasure box open, we could place one of the money bundles on the bed with his red coat and hat. There can't be that many red cowboy hats or red and green coats made from a Navaho blanket in Cleveland and they'll take a closer look because of the money."
"How do we get the box open?" Sally's reasonable question was unanswerable. They had no idea where Otto had hidden the key.
Siggy sighed gustily and softly padded from the dank bathroom out into the main room. The others could hear faint clicks and scratches. Then Siggy reappeared with a battered basket stuffed with odds and ends clutched precariously in his mouth. He dumped it on the floor in the center of their little circle and tipped it over.
Pitty Paw, a mottled gray cat, who remained silent until then, patted through the rag-tag collection until she spied a broken nail file. "Aha! Isn't this what that silly woman on CSI used last week?"
The whole group studied the broken file dubiously. Finally, Sally slowly nodded. "It might work. The rest of you keep looking through this junk while Pitty Paw and I go try to open the lock."
Sally and Pitty Paw went out into the main room and trotted briskly over to the bed. Wiggling through the small space between the boxes stuffed under the bed, they wove through Otto's jumbled belongings until they reached the treasure box against the back wall. Sally brandished the rough little file and then poked it in the keyhole. Immediately, it jammed tight and they couldn't get it unstuck. After several more futile attempts to free it, Pitty Paw silently went to fetch help.
In a few minutes, she returned with Jacko, Harold's right paw rat. Jacko silently studied the problem before worming around in the dust bunnies until he was flat on his back with his powerful hind legs pressing against the file. "You two brace me so I don't slide all over," he directed a bit breathlessly. "I'll push on three. One…two…three!" Jacko lashed out with both hind paws. There was a faint ping before the file when flying off into the darkness.
Sally sighed. "Bother. Thank you, Jacko. I'll just go see if I can locate the stupid thing so I can try again. Next time, I'll try not to get it jammed."
"Hold up there," Harold whispered loudly behind them. "We found a key." He dragged it up to the treasure box and dropped it with a faint clank. "Try this, Sally."
She clutched the key in her tiny paws and carefully inserted it into the keyhole. "It fits." Jacko helped her maneuver the key back and forth until they heard a tiny click and the lock sprang free. The lid tilted up revealing a narrow gap.
Harold tilted his head and peered into the box. "I see the money bundles. Let's drag one out so we can get this done." They huffed and puffed and tugged and pushed and pulled and it was all in vain. The box lid, jammed against the bottom of the bed, wouldn't open any further. There just wasn't enough clearance to extract one of the thick bundles of money.
Pitty Paw crouched down with her head on her paws and thought. "Do we need the entire bundle?" she asked.
They all stared at each other for a few moments before Harold shrugged. "I don't think so. What's your idea?"
Pitty Paw crept forward, grasped the tattered green pile of bills poking out through the opening with her sharp teeth, and yanked. There was an ominous ripping noise, and abruptly, she crouched in front of them with a mouthful of money, sticking out in all directions like so much lettuce. She spat it out with a grimace and poked it in Harold's direction with her nose. "There is the money. Now what do we do?"
Sally and Jacko gathered up the money while Harold scampered back to the bathroom to work out the next steps. By the time they crawled out from under the bed, Siggy was trotting across the room with Otto's red and green coat clutched in his mouth. He dumped it on the bed across Otto's feet and went back for Otto's hat. When she saw that Siggy couldn't shake the hat loose from the hook where it hung, Sally skittered up the coat tree, pushed the hat until it teetered on the very edge and then flicked it once with her fluffy tail.
Seconds later, they all stood around trying to stifle their laughter because the hat landed squarely on Siggy's head, slumping down over his ears and one black eye. His damp black nose poked out from under the brim. He sniffed and tossed his head, dislodging the hat.
In a very few minutes they had everything arranged so that they were ready to make the important call to 911. Sally tipped the phone off the hook and methodically poked at the numbers with her tiny fisted paw. Shortly, the operator answered and Siggy began to bark…
By the time the first police car responded, Siggy was nearly hoarse. The officer quickly called in a request for an ambulance. While it was enroute, he noticed the animals, all sitting in a composed little group next to the bed. Keeping his eyes on them, he called out to his partner, "Joe? Come in here for a second."
Joe poked his head inside and demanded, "What? I'm trying to talk to the guy that lives across the road."
"Look at the animals, Joe. When have you ever seen a bunch like this all together? A dog, a cat, two rats, four squirrels and three chipmunks--all together in a little group. They aren't acting like they're afraid of us, either."
While the two officers watched, Sally climbed up on the foot of the bed and sat next to the bright red cowboy hat. Tilting her head to one side as though to say, "Well?", she waited for them to make a move.
Cautiously, Officer Joe slowly approached and lifted the hat. He turned it in his hands, noting the name printed in the hat band. "Mike, I think this guy is that Christmas Angel that hands out money every Christmas. You know the one that gives away fifty dollar bills down in the projects?"
"This guy?" Mike scoffed at the very idea. "He's just some bum."
"I don't think so. The name in this hat is Otto McKenzie."
"Otto McKenzie? What would a millionaire be doing in a dump like this?" Mike held out his hand for the hat so he could see for himself.
Joe handed over the hat and pushed back his own hat, scratching his ear in thought. "I seem to remember reading that McKenzie walked out of his headquarters one day and just disappeared. There was something about him resigning because of unethical business practices by his board of directors. He turned them into the SEC and most of them went to jail."
"Well, if he's really McKenzie and also the Christmas Angel, I guess we know where the money came from. Wasn't there a special program on TV not too long ago about him? I think his children have been searching for him. I'll bet this will make for a real happy Christmas for them." Mike heard the sirens approaching and went to direct the EMTs. In the hustle and bustle of getting Otto ready for the ambulance, the officers lost track of the animals. When they finally had a few minutes to close up the little house, the animals were no where to be found.
Both officers looked very carefully before admitting that the animals were gone, but when they had locked up and returned to their patrol car, they both agreed that there was something very odd about the little group. They acted like Otto McKenzie's guardian angels.
From their observation point, deep in a bush at the corner of the little house, the animals watched the patrol car slowly move down the gravel road.
"Otto will be alright, now," Harold declared with satisfaction. "We did a good job. His family will appreciate him now and be glad to have him home."
"Well," Pitty Paw observed thoughtfully. "I hope on the next assignment God gives us, we get to have hands."
"And can speak to humans," Siggy growled hoarsely.
Then with a flash and twinkle, they were gone.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Back then, with less media exposure, in a simpler time, children believed in Santa quite a bit longer. There was still a certain innocence in childhood. We still believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the dissonance between the secular and religious aspects of the holidays never seemed to matter.
Our little town was really small. I only remember one stoplight in the entire town, though there might have been others. The walk from the school, past the general store down the hill to our back door wasn't more than a couple blocks. Inside the general store, there was a high shelf near the ceiling and that was where the owners stored all the really exciting toy merchandise. That's where my doll was displayed.
One afternoon, after Thanksgiving, I was taking my usual stroll past the store when I noticed my mother getting into our car. She offered me a ride and instructed me to get into the front seat. But it was too late...I'd already opened the back door to take my customary spot in the back seat. And lo...there was my doll! The big box was stuffed between the seats on the floor, but even I could tell it was my doll!
My mother calmly told me to close the door and get in the front seat. Then she gently explained all about Santa Claus. And since I was the oldest child in my family, she further charged me with the responsibility of keeping the Santa secret from my brothers. And so I did. I have no idea how or when they found out about Santa. But for me, the bride doll I received that year was always inextricably tied to the secret of Santa Claus.
I still have the doll. She's kinda of beat up and her fancy dresses are long gone. One of my projects for the coming year is to crochet a new dress for her. I wonder how old children are now when they no longer believe in Santa--or if they do at all. Certainly, there are children who don't receive any gift, let alone something from Santa. Perhaps, just perhaps, if you have it in your heart, you'll find such a child and give them a gift from your heart. Because every child needs something to believe in.
Friday, December 1, 2017
In 1970, many women were given anesthesia during the last few moments of delivery. The doctor didn't ask if you wanted it. They just did whatever they wanted, assuming you didn't have the brains God gave a chicken, so of course, you wouldn't know whether you needed to be awake or not.
When the O.B. nurse woke me, he kept going on and on about how I had a 'big, big boy'. I immediately corrected him because I just KNEW I had a girl. We had a little set-to over the gender of my new baby. Until my doctor asked the nursery nurse to bring my baby to the delivery room.
You have to understand that the nursery nurses back then were not very comfortable with a new mother actually TOUCHING the baby. Goodness knows what they thought was going to happen when we took our babies home, but she was clearly reluctant to surrender her blanket-wrapped bundle...even after my doctor ordered her to place the baby in my arms.
Well, you know...I started unwrapping the baby and he yawned and grabbed my finger with his tiny hand and somehow I just fell in love with him. And I really didn't care if he was a boy.
Happy Birthday, Tony!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
And I had to have it.
I have a lot of books waiting to be re-pubbed, but somehow, I just didn't have the get up and go to even care. And then...the cover. It captured my imagination and I thought this is the one. So, after all the Christmas kerfuffle, Kama Sutra Lovers will be back up for sale.
While I was rummaging around in my computer files in search of the actual book file, I was forced to acknowledge things were getting a bit out of hand. So I set out to 'get organized'. Heh. Wasn't that a trip!
Some books had as many as five different files. Which one is the right one? I foresee a lot of reading in my future. However, that will be a good thing...because in the last couple years I've forgotten an important truth. I'm actually capable of writing an entertaining story!
It's easy to forget that when your books are drowning in the publishing sea of poor writing, worse editing, petty readers/writers/publishers and no sales. Well, no more. Whatever all the others out there are doing, I will go back to what I did best. I'll write the stories I enjoy reading. And maybe, someone else will enjoy reading them, too.
It all began with one cover. For that, I'm especially grateful. Yes, Emmy Ellis, it's all your fault!
If you're looking for a cover, check her out at https://www.facebook.com/thestudioenp
Friday, November 17, 2017
Part of the issue when you walk away from writing for a while due to health issues, family chaos, publisher closings, etc., etc., etc. is you lose the plot--literally. It's real difficult to just pick back up where you left off, because you don't even know where that is!
For instance, when I was writing the Mystic Valley series, I knew exactly what every character's story would be. Now, ten years later, in spite of all my notes, I have to re-read the books and try to figure out where I am in the overall story.
Sometimes things in the 'world' change what you were going to write in your story. Maybe real life events adversely affect your projected plot. Ooooops. I have a shifter/angel series that I'll likely have to completely revamp before I can republish it. History has moved on, leaving my characters behind. Then the question becomes how much energy do I want to invest in a series that may not sell more than a handful of books? How much to I love those characters?
I also have series I planned and never wrote because life intervened. I spent a lot of time on research for those books, so I hate to just dump it in the round file. How can I use the information I've accumulated for different stories than the ones I planned?
Some authors carry a set of characters and story around in their heads for years before the time is finally right for them to write the story. Suddenly, the day comes when the time is now! Perhaps all that researching will pay off for an entirely different book.
In the meantime, I'm writing while I search for those lost plots. I know they're around here somewhere, buried deep in my brain, just waiting to pop out at the most inopportune time. And then... I'll write the rest of the series.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
It seems to me there is a wide range of services that falls under the category 'editing'. Obviously, for some editors, spelling/word usage, isn't part of the editing service. Perhaps the editing they are performing might best be called edit lite. Or perhaps they believe spell check will take care of the issues. I don't know. I DO know it totally throws me out of the story when I'm confronted with glaring errors.
Every reader has a line they reach when they just stop reading and toss the book. For some the story must be engaging. For others, head-hopping is their bugaboo. For me...it's the sheer lack of proofing/editing on the part of the author. Yep, I get that you paid someone to edit your book. But if you didn't ascertain what you were paying for--or you didn't receive the service you paid for--then it's still up to you, the author to do the job. Ultimately, your name is on the cover. When you present shoddy work, it really doesn't matter whether you have a fabulous story or not. The first (and last) impression is shoddy workmanship.
Perhaps the best writer's practice should be to not only ask 'how much' when they're seeking out an editor, but 'what does that cover?' If the editing just covers a quick once over to catch continuity errors, then that's something the author needs to know and understand. And...maybe authors need to be more selective in their vocabulary and grammar and word usage.
Or maybe, my current practice is the only way. I just re-read the books I know were written and edited by professionals who care.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
And now? I suspect the apocalypse will be the new wave, nudging vampires and shifters and zombies to the side. And I wonder what that says about us. Is life that complicated? Or do we just want a bit of the positive to help us cope with all the negative around us?
Of course, it might just be authors are using their writing platforms to sound the alarm. Whatever that alarm might signify, be it nuclear war/power, climate change, over-population, plague, or aliens, there's something out there for everyone. What I'm noticing, though is the way authors are ignoring realities when the facts get in the way of the story. It's sort of like refusing to account for the effect of tossing a ball in the air--no matter how high you toss it, eventually, it will come down.
With that in mind, I've compiled various scenarios, trying to string out the consequences to the logical end, trying to see what needs to be included in the conclusion. There are a lot of factors, a lot of possibilities that mostly leave us with an ELE (Extinction Level Event).
Quite a few years ago, I wrote a blog, posing a question: What three things would you want to have if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island? You would not believe how many people replied with cellphone/laptop/tablet/bottled water and the one that puzzled me most--lip gloss and sun screen. There wasn't one reply that demonstrated even the least touch with reality.
Is that a true picture of our culture? And if so, how would folks survive? Something to consider. Yeah, something to think about.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Some folks chose to tell their stories. Others chose not to participate. Everyone is free to choose how they react.
Will it materially change the situation? Possibly not, but one thing that has happened is it's opened a discussion that's long overdue. Some have said women should be more proactive. But for many, their experiences happened when they were children and had no recourse. I believe this movement gave them the opportunity--possibly for the first time in their lives--to acknowledge what happened to them.
I also believe many men have NO clue how very pervasive the culture is because women--and assaulted men--have had no platform before. As with so many of our cultural issues (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) for many folks if it has never affected them, then it isn't a problem.
The first time I was molested, I was five years old. We lived next door to the post office in a tiny hamlet and I had wandered out of my yard into the open post office, likely from idle curiosity. A man came in, backed me into a corner and thrust his hand down my panties. And all the time he did this, he told me in no uncertain terms if I ever told anyone, he would kill my parents and little brothers and then he would set our house on fire. And I totally, completely believed every word.
Shortly after that, we moved to another town, but I never forgot what happened, and I was always reluctant to ever be alone again. From five to this day, fifty-two years later, I am a cautious, aware female, even in my own home.
Years later, as a young mother and adult, I worked in one of the first MacDonalds with a drive-thru. For several weeks, we had a male who intermittently ordered, then drove up to the window with his genitals on display. Understandably, our crew members were upset and disgusted. But I had a plan. The next time he ordered, one of the girls whispered it was 'him'. And I took the order myself. When he showed up at the window in all his glory, I dumped his milkshake in his lap and wished him a good evening. And he never came back.
When I was in my forties, I worked in an office with several other women. A new director for our department was hired and as is normal, there were some adjustments. But then a strange thing occurred. This new director, a relatively young man, started standing too close to the women in the office when he was talking to them. Now, everyone understands the concept of personal space and he was certainly violating that. But then he started playing with his genitals, both on the outside of his trousers and then by sticking his hand down his pants. As his secretary, I took the initiative and filed a harassment complaint.
The HR department called me over for an interview. Turns out five other women had complained, but HR felt they all have other agendas because they were generally unhappy with the changes he was making. I, however, did not have a personal agenda so they arranged for an outside investigator to interview me. The upshot was his termination. Not solely on my testimony, but it turned out on further investigation, this was his MO from previous positions. Now I worked for a school and in that state, it was LAW that any potential employer had to be notified, but my employer was the first one who did so when he looked for other employment. And they also notified the state education department. I heard later he had worked for five different counties in schools. And they never notified prospective employees. So...I suppose the buck stopped with me.
There you have it. Three different incidents out of many in my lifetime with three different outcomes. I know there are men and women who have terrible heart-breaking stories. And I've seen where a few protested that they'd never had anything like it happen to them. Well, then they are incredibly fortunate. The truth is, I believe sexual harassment, molestation, and even outright assault is far more common than we are willing to admit. I personally know eight people in my family who have been affected by this scourge.
Until we all stand up. Until we all teach our children it's never acceptable, it's never right, it's always something to immediately tell a responsible adult about...until we support the victims any way we can, it will continue.
So. Me, too.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Every single day, I find myself bombarded with new disasters and chaos, with no time to breathe in between, no time to just absorb the new terrors and loss before the next wave inundates. It's no surprise that folks are suffering from depression and anger and a sense of helplessness. Some people believe this is the worst life has ever been and it pains me to say, "No it isn't."
For each of us, our personal miseries are the biggest, baddest things that have ever happened. I know. I've suffered loss and betrayal and uncertainty just like everyone else. That is the balance to the joy and trust and happiness we also experience. It's a matter of perspective.
Do your feet hurt? Consider the person who has no feet. No, don't push that thought away. Take a moment or two and seriously think about what life is with no feet. Really think about all the difficulties involved. And then tell me--do your feet still hurt?
A while back, I spent about eight weeks in complete, total misery due to a back injury. I needed help to roll over in bed. I needed help to stand. Most mortifying, I needed help to wipe my ass. There were days I lay in bed and wondered if this was my future. And yet...yes, I knew deep within me, there were others out there who suffered so much worse. And because I could see that, I didn't give up.
In the midst of this chaotic, disastrous world we live in, we have an important mission. That mission is one of encouragement. Not the Pollyanna style of unicorns and rainbows, but the encouragement of real service. Folks stand around and wring their hands and say, "I'm praying for you. I'm thinking about you."
Well, so what?
I'm not dissing prayer. I believe it's important. But, people! That's not the end of it! God never said, pray about it and then sit on your butt waiting for the answer. Even at a distance, you can provide support. Get off the computer and make an actual phone call. Talk to someone. Send a real, live card with encouraging words...you know one with an envelope and stamp! Enclose a gift card if the recipient is struggling. Send flowers for no particular reason. Why do we wait for an occasion?
Instead of allowing all the bad stuff to silence us, speak up. Be counted. Don't wait for the disaster to strike. Pick a cause, a need, and pitch in. Don't be silenced.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Long before we had a government or a flag or an anthem, we were the people. Back then, we didn't waste time worrying about whether someone stood while someone else sang a song. We were too busy for that nonsense. Instead, we were trying to keep body and soul together.
Now, in this new day, our people are more divided than ever. The 'haves' worry about things like whether someone stands when the national anthem is played or not. It's a song. I admit, it has meaning for me, but I was raised in an entirely different era, when most folks took great pride in such things. Now, few care one way or the other, and without the boost of media, no one would care at all whether someone stands or not. After all, I'm willing to bet few home spectators stand for the national anthem. I bet most of them are in the kitchen getting a beer or soda and chips. So that's kind of hypocritical, isn't it?
Now, I have great respect for the flag. It represents our country. But I also respect the right to dissent. Isn't that what our ancestors have fought for over the years? At least, that's what they taught us in school. So...are only certain people allowed to dissent? Peaceful dissent. No one has the right to riot or murder or burn other folks homes or businesses or possessions. No one, regardless of color or religion or gender. Throughout our history, we've protested. I was a young adult during the Vietnam War, and believe me, there was a lot of protest! Folks say they don't remember our country ever being so divided, but I say they just don't remember.
It's impossible to get two people to agree about everything, let alone several million. Every single person has their own agenda. Every one. And it all goes back to personal beliefs, needs, and wants. So, just because you believe something, doesn't mean I have to. That is what our country is all about.
Already, I'm starting to see fake posts about some nebulous person forbidding folks from saying Merry Christmas or calling a decorated tree a Christmas Tree. Just stop it. No one is doing that crap. Fear mongers love to post that crap every year to wind up people. Ignore it and move along. If you want to say 'Merry Christmas' then do so. Go shout it on the street corners.
No one cares!
Why do we spend so much time emphasizing our differences instead of embracing all the ways we are alike? Fear. Bone deep fear encouraged by the few who would keep us divided. Next time you see a post about somebody doing something you don't approve, stop and really think about it. Why was it posted? Whose agenda is being forwarded? What do they really want to accomplish?
I have a dream. I dream of a land where everybody wants the best for their fellow man. Where they appreciate our differences and lend a helping hand to those in need. That's the country I live in.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Now...as you see, their home is underwater as are their vehicles.
And their story can be repeated, over and over and over. The great inland sea stretching across southeast Texas crept in, covering roads and yards and parking lots, filling homes and businesses, and regrettably also taking lives.
Unfortunately, there are individuals across the country sitting back in their comfortable armchairs, secure in their warm, dry homes and while enjoying the bounty in their pantries, they feel they have the right to critique the unfolding disaster. Well, they don't. They're not there on the ground. They're not spending hours and hours, rescuing folks in the dark, cold rain. They aren't huddling on a rooftop waiting for help. They aren't there.
It's a brutal truth, but you don't know what you will do until you're in that situation. So be quiet. Instead of yapping on like self-important chihuahuas about what the victims should be doing, start asking what you can do to help. Have you stopped to consider that thousands of dollars in school supplies the children of Harvey will need? One small thing. Think about it. Think about medications lost. Think about infant supplies. Computers. Cars. Homes. Even if they can return to their home eventually, they can't live in them until the mold and toxins have been cleaned out. That, alone can take weeks or months. Furnishings are totaled.
When the water is all gone, that's not the end of it. The inland sea is a destroyer. As Mr. Rogers taught us, be a helper. Helpers offer comfort, solutions, and compassion. Instead of offering negativity, offer love and support. Be a helper.
And for goodness sake, would someone please muzzle the next reporter who asks and evacuee, "How do you feel?"
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Prayer works best when it's directed and specific. So what are you praying for? Less rain? Sunshine? Safety? Just typing "I'm praying for you," isn't particularly useful. It might be comforting--or not--but when you're trapped in a house with the water rising through the attic floor, it's not useful. What you need at that point is action. Someone showing up with a boat or helicopter.
I know folks reading this are standing there, hands on hips, and yelling, "I live on the other side of the country! What can I do?"
Take action. The folks down there are going to need food. Water. Maybe blankets or clothing. I don't know, but I bet there are folks who do know. Churches. Charitable organizations. Pitch in. They're gonna need help cleaning up. They're gonna need help rebuilding. If you can't go, sponsor someone who can. And if all else fails, they're gonna need money.
I'll tell you what else we all need as a country. A plan. We need to push Congress and the other folks in charge to get off their duffs and come up with a realistic plan for disasters. A comprehensive plan. Right now, help is piecemeal at best. Why does it take so long to call up the Guard when the folks in charge know what a mess things are going to be? Heck, I knew and I live on the other side of the country.
Why do we repeat this crap? Go to the polls and vote the idiots out. Make that a political platform. The people who come up with a comprehensive, workable plan get the vote. Now, I'm not talking about giving people money. We do that, one way or another. Why don't we have a universal disaster insurance? One that covers everything from tornadoes to floods to earthquakes and wild fires? Wouldn't that ultimately be cheaper than the piecemeal approach we have now?
And pass laws to prevent building on flood plains. You might say folks should know better but the ugly truth is they don't. They believe if a builder tosses up a bunch of houses on a field, it must be okay. And it's not. They believe if a builder sells a bunch of houses on the beach it must be okay. Or if a builder plants a bunch of houses on an earthquake fault, it's safe. Well...it isn't. And while you might say those buyers should know better, the end truth is all of us pay when there's a disaster. It's our tax dollars that are used for clean up and disaster relief (whatever form that might take) and however minimal it might be.
Every single year there's a disaster. Some years there are a more. Isn't it time we take action? Really?
Friday, August 25, 2017
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Anyway, yesterday during all the eclipse hoo-hah, we received eleven calls from someplace in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We don't know anyone in Ft. Lauderdale. I'm not sure we even want to know anyone in Ft. Lauderdale. I was getting pretty ticked off when I noticed a button on the phone that says 'call block'. Hmmmm.
The next time Ft. Lauderdale called, I pressed the button, confirmed I wanted the caller blocked and... there was peace, precious peace the rest of the day. Actually, we haven't had a phone call from anyone since then. About 99% of our phone calls are from unknown sources so we don't often actually answer the phone, but this total phone silence is weird.
Since blocking that call worked so well, I've been anxious to try it again, but there haven't been any calls! How can I play with the 'block call' button if no one calls? 😕 Do you suppose all the robo-callers are connected and now they know I can block their calls? Wouldn't that be cool?
I've never understood why people answer the phone when they don't know who is calling--especially as we have all this great technology now. Why would I want to talk to someone I don't know? And consider--it's hard to be caught up in a scam if you never talk to them in the first place. What if everyone just refused to answer all callers they didn't recognize? What would the robo-callers and scam artists do then? Maybe they'd go back to snail mail or something...
So. It's peace and tranquility at the Cook house. And when it isn't, I know exactly how to fix it.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
For some, success is making a lot of money. For others, getting out of bed in the morning is success. That's why many of those motivational speeches and videos are worthless. They don't take into account the variety of life styles and circumstances humans live with.
I recently watched a video in which a naval officer posited the key to success was making your bed every morning. Now some folks took that literally, I'm sure, and that's okay. But I think the idea was 'start as you mean to go on'. Have a plan and carry it out. Many mornings making the bed is beyond me, so fortunately the hunk makes it, but I still have a system to get my day going. And everyday, whether I feel like it or not, I keep to the system.
I have read many times (on many social media statuses) authors in particular bemoaning their lack of success at finishing a particular piece of writing...and then a couple posts later, they mention they're still lounging around in their jammies with their hair uncombed or their face unshaved. And here's what I've discovered. The job, any job, doesn't get done as long as you're wandering around in your jammies. Because you're not ready. Get dressed.
Once you're ready, decide what your goal for the day is. Some days my goal is to stay awake. Other days, my goal is to go outside. Success isn't measured in huge leaps. It's mostly measured in small steps. The deal is to keep moving forward. Keep going. Choose your own path. And stick with it.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
"Dad stopped being dad last Friday..." my cousin, Susan.
My uncle has reached the point where he no longer recognizes anyone in his family, including my aunt. She can no longer care for him so he's been placed in a hospice. It's a heartbreaking scenario played out across the country, over and over, as the elderly population succumbs to various forms of dementia.
For some it's a gradual onset that eventually takes them away. For others such as my uncle it's sudden and devastating. Regardless, it's a catastrophic event, heartbreaking to the entire family, but especially for those close enough to have the responsibility for their care.
There's not anything useful I can add to the conversation. Except I love my uncle and aunt and my heart is breaking for both of them. They've been together a very long time. In December they'll have their 60th anniversary. And it grieves me that this is the way it ends.
If you have a time and place in your hearts, all good wishes and prayers for them are welcome.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
From the earliest times, statues have been created and placed on high supports to honor individuals or ideals or gods/goddesses. Statues have no intrinsic value except that conferred by people. One population might venerate the statue while another will vilify it. In the iconic last scene in Planet of the Apes, the hero stumbles across the destroyed Statue of Liberty. For the inhabitants of the planet, human and ape alike, it had no meaning. Only the hero found meaning in the statue.
All over the world, statues--ancient and modern--stand for ideals mostly forgotten or no longer with any significant meaning. Depending on just how ancient they are, we humans might preserve them because we value their artistic appearance or their historical/cultural meaning. What I find interesting is the fact that these are the statues that survived. They are a small, very small portion of the thousands of statues that were destroyed through war, rebellion, earthquakes, weathering...because humans have always toppled or buried or defaced statues that no longer represented their beliefs or their rulers.
Often the toppling was carried out by angry mobs as a cathartic means of triumph over their previous overseers. For those who object to the removal of statues, they forget such actions have historical precedent. When the populace no longer actively venerates the ideal represented by the statue, inevitably it will come down, either voluntarily or by mob rule.
People change. Cultures change. And the folks in power change. You might say the history of statues is also the history of humans. When the meaning represented by the statue is no longer valid, it will be replaced by some other meaningful object. For those who wish to preserve a statue that's lost its significance, instead of rioting maybe they should offer a new location for it.
Perhaps their front yard.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Religion is not faith. It's organized ritual. And not all religion takes place in a church. The military could qualify as a religion. It has a core belief, organized rituals, and a ranked power system. What separates one military from the next is the differences in core beliefs and loyalties. The fact that we assume the military is there for our protection is part of our belief system that may or may not have any validity in truth.
I have met folks who protest they take no part in rituals. However, most of us have a certain routine in our lives that borders on ritual. We get up, we shower/dress, we have our coffee, we check our e-mail--and when our routine is interrupted, it creates havoc with our entire day because it is in fact now ritual.
If we get together with others of like mind and then decided our day would be better is we say...lit candles and drank coffee together, then we're bordering on religion. Maybe we'll decide to light candles in the early dawn, watch the sunrise, and then drink our coffee before we start our day. And so it goes.
Faith on the other hand requires no accoutrements. It just is. We believe. Or we don't. Going to church, dancing naked in the woods, marching with our fellow man, none of those creates faith. I do think one single thing can aid and abet in the faith process and that is mindful awareness. That's hard to do unless we take time for it.
Some folks call it prayer, others call it meditation, and still others call it thinking time. But without it, we might find our faith wavering a bit. No ritual required. Just time.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Last night I was working on a crochet project when the hunk asked me why I held my hook the way I do...and I smiled as I remembered my friend Joyce showing me how to hold my hook like a writing implement. It might sound weird, but it's a lot less stressful and allows better control. That was more than thirty-five years ago and I still hold it the same. Such a simple, long-lasting gift from my friend.
When I first married, I had a cooking repertoire of zero. The hunk would attempt to teach me, but he often found it simpler to just make dinner himself. Then we moved across the street from our friends, Dorian and Orlando, and Dorian took me in hand. She taught me about making a grocery list, what to look for when we shopped, how to plan a meal, and finally how to prepare the meal. It took months. But my children and the hunk can thank her persistence for all the meals I prepared for the next forty years.
I still have a plaque hanging on the wall that she gave me. "The best thing I can have in a kitchen is a friend who can cook. Help wanted!"
When we moved to Baltimore, I was lonely in that way that you only get when you leave your friends, family, job, church...everything behind. I didn't know what to do with myself. And then I met Jane. She tucked me in, beneath her wings. Listened to my crazy writing ideas. Introduced me to all the places I needed to know about in the new neighborhood. And accepted me for who I am, regardless of how weird that might be. Heh. Another friend, Kelly, sent me a 'surprise'. I took the box downstairs and opened it with Jane. I will NEVER forget the expression on her face when I opened it to reveal a purple vibrator called a 'throbbin' robin'. Still smiling. She was the one I called when I received my first contract offer.
Friends share themselves. Even when they live a long ways away. I have a friend in Australia--Amarinda--who regularly props me up with a 'get with the program, woman!' Sometimes you desperately need someone who will do just that.
Honesty is hard to come by. So I value the two or three writing friends who are willing to tell me my writing sucks. It's a hard thankless job, but they've hung in there, speaking the truth so I could improve my projects. It takes tact. It takes courage. It takes empathy.
It occurs to me to wonder what I might have given back to my friends. I hope they look back over the years and remember me kindly, with affection and a smile. Because that is the essence of friendship.