Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Me Too

It's interesting how very divisive the 'me too' movement has become. Personally, I think the original idea was simply to demonstrate just how many humans--female OR male--have been sexually molested, assaulted, or harassed in their lifetime...a visual count. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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

Silent Voices

I haven't written in a while--partly because I'm not concentrating very well--and mostly because I'm overwhelmed with all I want to say, but cannot. I bet you're confused now, aren't you? Well, so am I.

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

The Distant Vista

I love my country. I can't say the same for the government. But my country, my land where I live is not composed of ephemeral things like the flag or the national anthem or the president. No, my country is composed of the people...all of the people.

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

Inland Sea

The gentleman in the pic above used to be my neighbor when we lived in Houston. He's six feet tall, so...you can judge how much water is on his driveway as he tries to get around his home. Back when we neighbors, his family and our family spent a lot of time together.

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 and Action

Harvey--Hurricane or Tropical Storm--is flexing his muscles, showing humans just how puny they are. All over social media, there are sympathetic posts about praying for Texas, Houston, victims, etc., etc., etc... Now there's nothing wrong with prayer, but I'm wondering what you're praying for?

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

Birthday Man

Soooo. The hunk looks pretty good for 71. Fifty years ago today on his 21st birthday, he proposed. His logic when I said yes? It was a present for himself. Back then, we couldn't envision reaching seventy.

Happy Birthday, Babe!



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Blocked!

A while ago we bought a new phone system that identifies incoming callers. Mostly, it lists a phone number with a town/state. If the caller has their phone set up, it lists their name. Once in a great while it simply says 'out of area'. For the record, I never answer it unless I recognize the caller. I figure if it's important, they'll leave a message.

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.

Blocked!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Defining Success

If you search for success motivation on the internet, you'll find a zillion memes and videos and blogs all listing a zillion paths to success. The difficulty is they all have different measures of success when the truth is each of us must define success for ourselves.

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

Memory Thieves

"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

The Statue Game

Last weekend certain members of our country engaged in the most recent game of statues. It wasn't news--until someone died. Then, it took on an entirely different cast. And what got lost in the name calling and blame calling was the supposed reason for the gathering...the preservation of a statue.

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

Faith and Ritual

Faith is pure belief. Ritual is how we dress that faith...and sometimes, ritual is what we substitute for faith. For example, I can firmly believe in vampires. But if I festoon my home with garlic bulbs and holy water to ward off vampire depredations, then that is ritual, with perhaps a side-order of secondary belief in the efficacy of garlic and holy water.

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

Simple Gifts

Friends are the family you choose. Some folks have the same friends almost from the day they're born. Others have a rotating stable of friends as they move through life. By the time I landed in Baltimore fifteen years ago, I'd moved over forty times across the country, living in several states so I'm more of the rotating stable variety. Distance prevents spending time with old friends, but social media allows me to keep up with them, even if it's not as often as I wish.

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.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Mere

The suspect. Watching mystery television is so...frustrating. About eighty percent of the time I figure out who the real bad guy is in the first five minutes. The other twenty percent, the writers paint everyone into such tight corners while leaving huge gaping plot holes that they actually prove the bad guy could NOT have done it! So who was it then?

Aliens, magicians, vampires, were-whatevers...

Then there are the shows that drag out catching the bad guy for episode after episode after episode after episode to the point that the average viewer just stops watching because by this point it's became a bad soap opera. Catch the bad guy already! When you do, kill him off so he can't come back! By now, I don't care about justice or lawyerly posturing or any of that other stuff.

It all makes me long for the days of MacMillan and Wife, McCloud, Columbo, Remington Steele, and all those other shows that entertained us. They didn't require huge multi-member casts that only have five seconds screen time except when it's their turn to be the featured member of the week. What is it with all the big casts? Can't the writers produce a script that centers around a couple characters?

Anyway...I figure it won't be too long before we have an entire mystery series that centers around a were-bear detective with a vampire sidekick, a receptionist who moonlights as a zombie killer, and a pet brownie who keeps the office clean. Maybe a blue alien who gets left behind when his fellow aliens take off after they finish their exploration mission. If so--you read it here first! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rise and Shine


I'm retired. Every retired person lives their own lifestyle. Some rise with the dawn. Others sleep late. It's all about body clocks and preferences and all that other stuff. To each his own.

One woman I talked to recently was of the opinion everyone should rise early, go to bed early. Otherwise, they were lazy bums. She's free to believe whatever she wishes. As long as I sleep eight hours (whenever that is), I'm good to go.

It's all about getting enough sleep. Back when I was in my forties, I rose at 4:30 AM, ran like crazy all day, tumbled into bed around 11 PM, woke the next morning and did it all over again. So, my math is rusty, but I'm pretty sure I averaged five and a half hours of sleep per day. Not enough.

The body requires a certain amount of sleep to keep it ticking in good working order. While we may live several years in a sleep deprived state, eventually, the time comes when we pay the piper with failing health. If we burn that candle at both ends too long, the effects can be permanent. Oddly enough, one of the effects of sleep deprivation is obesity.

Think about that for a moment. If you're gaining weight and tired all the time, it's probably because you aren't getting enough sleep. If you're dieting like crazy and exercising and doing all the stuff you're supposed to and still not succeeding with your weight loss, you just might not be sleeping enough.

After punishing my body with too little sleep, too much poor nutrition, too much stress, I hit retirement age and discovered the joys of sleeping. When I'm ill, I might sleep around the clock for a couple days. I generally take a nap every day. When I 'rise and shine', I actually enjoy my time awake. My glucose counts are lower. I feel better. And I'm not as cranky and short tempered. Part of my even temper is simply getting enough sleep.

My meds work better when I have enough sleep. Instead of fighting to work with my body, they can actually do their jobs. A couple weeks ago, I had a root canal. When I arrived home from the dentist, I took my pain meds and went to bed. The extra sleep allowed my meds to work so I had minimal pain when I woke up. Too often, we don't understand our bodies. Even the most 'simple' procedure is an assault on the body. Sleep allows our bodies to recover.

Unfortunately, many adults feel guilty about sleeping. Women have spent their lives believing they are supposed to be first up, last down. They use their children's nap times to race around their homes trying to take care of tasks when they should also be napping, because an even-tempered parent is far more important than a spotless home.

Men believe it reflects on their masculinity when they take a nap after a medical procedure. They're men! They're tough! Maybe that's why so many have unexpected heart attacks.

The body does not lie. If you're tired, if your thinking is muzzy, if you're short tempered...take a nap. Then you can truly shine when you rise.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chili Everyday

When I was younger with a houseful of kids, I strived to prepare a variety of dishes for dinner (though I suspect they would have happily eaten pizza everyday), but now...well, now I would be just fine with having chili every night. I suppose I should explain my chili. Minimal spices. Onions, peppers, tomato sauce, beans, some kind of meat. Sometimes I chop up a tomato and toss it in. That's it. No salt as the tomato sauce has plenty.

As we get older, take more meds, our taste buds fall down on the job. Nothing tastes quite like it used to. Most things require more pizazz. And all that pizazz backfires in the middle of the night. The list of foods that backfire is growing by the day so I'm really quite content with the same-old, same-old that I know won't be revisiting me around 2 AM.

So. Chili is stomach friendly (again I reiterate MINIMAL spice) and it's sugar friendly. Balancing the two is difficult.

We don't eat chili every day, of course. In between, we have things like beef and beans (no tomato sauce), green bean/potato/meat goulash, salmon, salmon, shrimp, and...chili. Once in a while we venture out to have a hamburger. The next day, the sugar is generally up fifteen to twenty points.

When you're in a weight loss program, there's a lot of emphasis on variety in your meals and staving off boredom from eating the same thing over and over. Well, I think they should have a special group for the older crowd. We LIKE eating the same thing every day.

And another thing...I look at all those ooey, gooey, cake pics on Facebook, dripping with chocolate and caramel and other stuff and just shudder. My sweet tooth has changed drastically over the last few years. A simple Hershey's bar is tooooo much. When I tell someone I can make a candy bar last several weeks, they just don't understand. Two bites and my teeth hurt. Self control is no problem.

I've been thinking about how we used to go out at least once a week...and we can't be bothered any more. I think it's because nothing tastes like we remembered. And who wants to pay for something they don't even enjoy?

Give me chili.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Series Bingeing

Hello. My name is Anny and I binge series. All kinds of series. Sci-fi, romance, action adventure... just let me find one book I like and I'll devour the rest. The downside is when I run out. I mope around the house while I search for something else to grab my attention. I might do laundry or knit or play a computer game, but nothing really satisfies. Until...until I find that next series to binge.

Let me be clear. I'm talking BOOKS here. Not television, not movies, but books. Often, I re-read a series from the beginning because I can't find anything else. And of course, when a 'new' book from a series is released I read the entire series before I read the new book.

I have heard from other readers who never re-read a book and I'm sorry to say this, but that's just beyond my comprehension. Of course, I've also heard of people who never read. And some who read maybe ten books a year. And I can't imagine that. Ever. I don't remember a time in my life when I read less that a couple hundred books a year and usually, I read twice that.

I love authors who write big multi-book series and especially those who branch out with new inter-related series. You know what I'm talking about. Robert B. Parker had his Spencer series and then his Jessie Stone series and then...yep, you know. J.A. Jance has her Beaumont series and her Joanna Brady series and a couple others. So when I sit down to read, I have all sorts of goodies to keep me entertained. And then there's Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick. Mercedes Lackey. Dorothy L. Sayers. Elizabeth Peters. Sigh.

Well. There you are. I could fill a couple pages just listing series of books I read. Over and over and over. Have you made my list? Well, some recent authors are Rena Marks, Cynthia Sax, Michael Anderle, and J.L. Wilson. As I said, I could list and list and list. The test of time is whether I will re-read them. Oh, yeah. Pamela Clare. Susan Bliler. And on and on.

Why? What's so attractive about a series. Well, I would say it's the same reason folks watch a television series. We care about the characters. We get caught up in the series world. We want to know the answer to the age old question, "Then, what?"

The difference between reading a series and 'watching' a series is the effort we expend. Reading requires mental discipline and effort to imagine what the author is conveying. What do the characters look like? How do we envision the world the series is set in? And when we find a series that grabs us by the throat and drags us in? Well, that's a true prize. That's a gift. That's the sort of thing we used to call our friends about because we were so excited.

I wonder what happened? When did we stop sharing? Who's your go-to book binge?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Don't Need No Stinkin' Insurance

There are some idiots out there who think we don't need insurance--medical, vision, dental, etc. Over the weekend, I started having tooth pain. I thought I had a broken tooth (which would have been bad enough) and made an appointment to see my dentist on Tuesday.

He informed me I had an infection in the gum/tooth and for various reasons would need a root canal and crown...and sent me to a specialist as I have tiny fragile teeth and all sorts of secondary medical issues. He also started me on antibiotics.

Saw the specialist on Wednesday with an emergency appointment. He drilled and hummed and once I'm pretty sure I heard him mutter a curse under his breath. And the upshot is I have an abscess, a spreading gum infection, and while the majority of the root canal work is finished, he can't complete the work for two weeks so I have time to get rid of the infection via antibiotics.

So two days worth of dental work equals six x-rays, one prescription (because I already have leftover pain meds from my back issues), an office visit with my dentist, a referral visit with the specialist, $30 in 'sooooft' foods--and I'm sure there will be more in the next two weeks.

Here's the thing. When the hunk retired we opted to continue our dental insurance in his medical coverage. So far, we haven't paid a dime except for the $10 prescription and the groceries. However, if we didn't have dental insurance, I might have had to go with the second option and have the tooth pulled. It's located in the middle of the left side and such an action would no doubt result in a lot of crooked, shifting teeth.

Tell me why we don't need comprehensive coverage for everyone. Everyone.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday, Monday

What is it about Monday? It's an arbitrary day chosen back in the mists of time for the first day of the week. I say we choose to begin the week on Thursday. Or Friday. Yeah, I like Friday much better.

Broke a tooth over the weekend...not exactly sure when, but when it started hurting, it got my immediate attention. Have an appointment tomorrow with the dentist. I love my dentist...I just don't want to see him professionally.

Woke this morning after restless, mostly sleepless night (see paragraph above), dragging my behind, thinking about stuff I needed to do. Waiting for the coffee to finish when a loud knock on the door changed all my plans. Contractors were here to replace our AC/Heat. Trouble was...the closet for the AC is where we store bakeware, extra TP, papertowels, etc. And the maintenance office failed to notify us. Took a minute to dress more appropriately. Then we had to empty said closet while the gents carried in their tools.

Then they discovered a cabinet on the wall next to the closet door was in the way so we emptied the cabinet and moved it. Still no coffee.

Once that was all done and various pieces of furniture were moved out of the way, it was finally time for coffee. At 12-ish, the hunk started cooking breakfast while I discussed my woes with the dentist. By then the gents were carting bits and pieces of the old AC out.

It's 4:00 PM and they're still here finishing up odds and ends. And sometime after they leave, we'll have to put all that stuff back.

So that's my Monday. How's yours?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Caturday Reflections

Ah, the weekend! Strictly speaking, I'm quite busy today, though so far, that has not included writing. Bread is rising. Laundry is chugging away. A tad of reading is edging in on the fringes. I was up very early (for me) to talk to the post office about a package that wasn't delivered yesterday because the postal person didn't knock loud enough to wake us up. Today when she delivered the package we had a very amicable chat about getting older, the perks of retirement, and the necessity for loud knocking when you're sleeping in the other end of the apartment.

By the time all that was straightened out, I was too wide awake enough to go back to sleep, so I see a nap in my future. At least, I hope I can sneak in a nap. Sometimes things don't work out. Such is life.

July is zipping by. I'm not sure why time seems to move faster as you age. Maybe you have an increased sense of time lost. It's reached the point where I feel sometimes as though I don't dare just stop and sit down as that's a loss of time. I don't remember feeling like that when I was younger. Back then I actively prayed for a ten minute break. All right. A five minute break. Anything.

Now I wonder if I can get back all the hours I wasted watching television reruns and reading sub-par books and working at sub-par jobs. Oh, some jobs were...necessary for survival, but others were not.

I'd like back all the hours I spent folding and putting away laundry. Think about it. You fold it up. In two or three days you take it back and wear it. Who sees wrinkles in your underwear and socks? Who? No one. When you put them on, your body waves stretch them out. Voilá! No wrinkles. Same for sheets. Why not just put 'em back on the bed when they're dry? Nooooo folding. And towels? Don't talk to me about towels.

I want back the hours I spent worrying about paying bills. No one should have to worry about that if they're working. They should have to worry about eating or needing a doctor or how they're gonna keep their vehicle. Back in my younger years I spent a lot of time worrying about such things. Folks talk about how things were so much better in the past, but I don't think so. They're not good now, but parts of my early adulthood were no picnic.

When my first two children were born we had no medical coverage at all. No one I knew did either. Think about that. We lived in Chicago, a major city, and I didn't know anyone who had medical insurance. Of course, when I was growing up you didn't go to the doctor unless you were dying. I can count on one hand all the times I went to the doctor between age five and eighteen. I wonder...was I better off then? Or not?

Everyone I know goes to the doctor frequently. So does that mean we're sicker now than back then? And if we are...why? Why is there a growing tidal wave of obesity, cancer, and all those other things we're sick from? Seriously? There are a LOT of obese folks who work their butts off. It's not just a matter of eating too much, or all the wrong stuff. And that cancer stuff? Why are our children and young women getting cancer?

When did I stop singing? I used to sing a lot. So what silenced my voice? Is that how life goes? Maybe. Maybe that's life.



Friday, June 30, 2017

Great Outdoors


This coming week (in the USA) we'll celebrate July 4th, popularly known as our country's birthday. Traditionally, the day is marked with picnics, fireworks, and in the past, parades. Until I was an adult, I never lived anywhere that had a July 4th parade, but I've read about them.

When I was a little kid, we didn't have grills and such. Our picnics were more organic. I remember one evening my folks took us to a sandy dry wash (that's a dry gully that fills with raging water in the monsoonal season). Dad built a little fire from drift wood in the center of the wash so we could grill our hotdogs over the open flames. The hotdogs (and later, some marshmallows) were speared lengthwise on straightened wire hangers. We knelt on an old quilt mom brought along and held our hotdogs over the fire until they swelled up--and in some cases--turned black. Then mom or dad would slide the hotdog onto a slice of bread. Add ketchup and wrap the bread around the dog and we were good to go. Usually, mom brought along baked beans and maybe potato salad. That was it. Dessert was toasted marshmallows. And we had tea in a gallon jug to drink.

The point wasn't the food. It was the experience. The fire would die down and there in the dark with the faint glow from the coals, we would listen to our father tell us stories while we stretched out on the quilt and watched the glorious dance of the stars above us. Sometimes we would sing songs. But the thing I remember best from such picnics was the unshakeable knowledge that all was right in my world.

Not all picnics were so peaceful. Another time we met with another family for a picnic...cold fried chicken, potato salad, Kool-aid in a big recycled gallon glass jar that had once held pickles, I think. The oldest boy in the other family and I were special friends, only in the way nine and ten-year-olds can be. His name was Kenny and he had a particular interest in wildlife, the slimier, creepier, the better. We once got into major trouble for taking all our younger siblings with us when we went to catch a gila monster (highly poisonous lizard). We didn't catch one, but we did find a tarantula. Unfortunately, Kenny didn't have any way to carry it home so we had to abandon it where we found it.

Anyway, back to the picnic. Our parents sent Kenny and me off to gather firewood so we could have a campfire after we finished dinner. Naturally, we didn't just find some sticks. We also captured a snake. And it says quite a lot about our parents that when we arrived back at the picnic table with said snake that they emptied out the Kool-aid jug and rinsed it out so Kenny could take the snake home with him.

Now days, we have coolers and all sorts of paraphernalia for picnicking, but when I was young, there weren't any such items. When we traveled, lunch was a quick stop by the side of the road, beneath a shade tree if we were lucky. Bread (frequently smashed a bit), peanut butter and jelly or bologna. We didn't travel with condiments because they would go bad. If we were really, really fortunate, my parents might buy a watermelon at a farm stand and cool it off in a handy irrigation ditch. And if that irrigation ditch was one of the new-fangled concrete variety, they might even allow us to strip off our shoes and socks and splash in the water. A dip like that could keep us cool for quite a while as we continued our journey in the heat of a non-air conditioned car.

Back then there were no rest areas or restrooms at picnic areas. If a pitstop was necessary, it was normal to find a convenient bush to take care of business. And most cars had a roll of toilet tissue in the picnic basket. Boys generally had it much easier than girls. Of course, we didn't wear jeans or other kinds of pants. I think the first time I wore trousers was in junior high school when I received my first pair of peddle-pushers. Now...just think about that for a minute. For the first twelve or thirteen years of my life, I only wore skirts or dresses--even when playing or picnicking or traveling.

When I look back, I see our life was simpler before all the 'stuff' we acquire now. I remember, even after I married, the times we took our kids for picnics out in the shady yard where we had sandwiches and cookies and juice or milk. We sat on an old blanket and maybe stayed late enough to look at the sunset. When was the last time I did that?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Heritage

This photograph is my grandfather's family (he's the second from the right) in front of their home at the time. I visited here for a week when I was fourteen. It was hot. No running water. Outhouse was off to the back on the left side. It did have electricity, though. And a well. My great-uncle Bill lived there then (he's the one alllll the way to the right).

During my visit there, I had several experiences I will always cherish. Drove Uncle Bill's pickup around on the back dirt roads. It was an old Ford with stick shift--and when I say stick shift, I really mean it was a long metal stick spearing up from the floor. Another day, Uncle Bill let me help shear sheep. Boy, what a mess! Little did I know I was storing up memories to use in future stories.

Then there was the swimming in the old moss-covered concrete water tanks. I shudder to think of all the bacteria floating around in there. The creak of the windmill as it lazily turned in the occasional breeze was the only sound for miles around.

I had my first experience with a shotgun, pot-shotting stones on the edge of the reservoir. The first shot put me on my butt, but I was always stubborn so I climbed back to my feet and took another crack at it...and another...and another until Dad pointed out my shoulder was gonna be black and blue for sure.

The homeplace was as barren as it look in this photo. No shade. Did I mention it was August and hot? One of the attractions of the property was a very high hill called Nipple Peak. I'm pretty sure you can figure out why it was named that. Back in the day, folks were a lot more likely to be blunt in their nomenclature. Anyway, one day my Dad and I took a notion to climb Nipple Peak. It was a ways off from the house so Uncle Bill drove us over there in his pickup.

We started up. Abruptly, it turned into a race. I went one way. My dad chose another. I was fourteen, for crying out loud. My dad was thirty-four! Practically ancient--except for Uncle Bill who was seventy-four. Of course, I was gonna win.

It wasn't easy. I scrambled up the mountain, dodging prickly pear and stickers. But finally I reached the sheer high crown of rock at the peak. There was no way up! I edged my way around the entire perimeter and couldn't find a single spot to get a foothold. Then an arm reached down and a hand was offered.

"Need a lift?" Uncle Bill asked.

So I guess he wasn't too old, after all. 




Sunday, June 25, 2017

Photographs

Today folks take photos with their cell phones and I suspect most of them are random in nature and content. Back when I was a young girl, photos were a deliberate record of life. Because my mother was an avid photographer with her Kodak brownie I am blessed with quite a few photos from my childhood.

Every photo I have was posed.

That's right. Every photo.

And all of them tell a secondary story beside the original pose. They're a record of living conditions, fashion, life style, family. Heh, the photo above tells a story about my brothers and me that was true back then and is still true now sixty years later. Out there on the right side, my brother Jack is just plain disgusted with the entire process. He'd rather be doing something else. Next to him, Tom is wishing my mother had picked somewhere shady to take the picture. Next to me, Danny thinks this is all a lot of fun. And me? I'm trying to be a lady while sitting on a low stone step surrounded by a gritty, dirt yard.

I have vivid memories of this house. It was a small shotgun house (which simply means there was no internal hallway). You walked through all the rooms to get to the back of the house--and that was only three rooms total. At a later date, quite a while after the house was built, another room was added on to the side. That was the room I shared with my brothers. My parents slept in the center room (dining room). Since I had to share the side room with my brothers, my parents let me pick the color for the walls. I chose turquoise. Bright, deep turquoise like the chunks of turquoise my father brought home from the copper mine where he worked. They were rejected by-product from the mine operations.

When we went back to this town many years later, my father drove around showing us different places we lived and he stopped outside this house. The lady that lived there came outside to see what we wanted and dad explained we had lived there once. In the ensuing conversation she mentioned the difficulty of covering that turquoise paint...so I suppose you could say that was a legacy I left behind when we moved on.

This photo calls all these memories up like a swarm of butterflies, so many colors and shapes. I recall things I haven't thought about in years. That is what a photo should do. They call them memories for a reason.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Last Days

Looking at old photos--particularly of yourself--conveys a sense of how fast time is flying by. When we're young, we believe we're invincible and will live forever. Then, one day we look up and realize time is running out. We're not going to live forever. We might not live until next week.

We notice friends and peers and family are dying all around us, some suddenly, and others in slow agony. And it suddenly occurs that we're not ready. Oh, I don't mean spiritually or emotionally. None of us are ever ready in that case. But there are things we should consider, more so when we are writers.

I sat here at the computer and pondered all the things my spouse would have to deal with if I suddenly passed away. There are things I would want him to take care of simply because that's the way I am. And others he would need to deal with because they are legal issues, but the truth is, he has no idea where to find the information he would have to have. So I made a list. I share it with you because you might want to think about it, too.

1. Transferring my retirement money to him. When I took my retirement, I signed off on the provision that would make him the beneficiary so he will receive my check each month once I die. He did the same with his retirement. But I'm pretty sure he doesn't know who to contact so that's at the top of my list. Ditto for our Social Security benefits.

2. Transfer of my book rights and the resulting royalties. This is something I'll need to check out with each of my publishers...including my books on Kindle.

3. Shutting down my various e-mail accounts and social media accounts. He'll need a list of the actual accounts with logins and passwords. This might seem silly to you but I noted quite a few people wishing dead people Happy Birthday this last week. Clearly, they didn't know the individuals were gone since they wished them many more years!

4. But prior to shutting them down, I would like him to post a simple notice that I've passed on. Since he's not known for his writing skills, I need to compose that and leave it with the other information so he can just type it in the status line. After a week or two, then he can close the accounts. You might think this is unimportant, but I have several professional friends who've fallen off the grid. I worry about them as I know they were unwell. Are they gone? I don't know.

5. It should go with out saying, but a will. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it should state my wishes in the simplest terms. I've mostly passed on the physical items I wanted my children to have, but there will hopefully be some financial rewards. And I have pretty definite ideas about funeral arrangements. That should all be included.

As I continue to think about this over the next few weeks, I'll no doubt remember other items I need to take care of. And of course, all of us have different circumstances and conditions in our lives.

Heh. No, as far as I know, I'm not dying. At least, not anytime soon. But it never hurts our loved ones if we're prepared.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marking the Days

The thing about retirement is you start to lose track of what day it is. We get up in the morning and it's the same as it was yesterday and the day before...and the day before. Kind of like Ground Hog day.

Perhaps that is why people started choosing certain days or seasons to mark time. Of course, to keep accurate records (even if they were just marks on a stick or stone) there needed to be a particular person responsible. In ancient cultures, that person might be designated a wise person or a shaman or a priest. It was an important responsibility.

Now we have computers and atomic clocks and other such mechanical devices to mark time. Every television station includes the announcement of the summer solstice in their weather coverage. It's the turning of the season. For modern first world cultures, it doesn't mean much. Folks nod their heads, shrug and move on to more important things like which team won the ball game or which contestant won on a television show.

In the general scheme of things, a small group of people mark days like the summer solstice with more formal recognition. Generally, the Judeo-Christians sneer at such groups as pagan or other pejoratives. What they don't remember is the times when all people relied on the turn of the seasons. Life itself was dependent on the knowledge. Crops were planted and harvested according to these specific seasonal changes. Long before we had months and weeks, we had the first clock.

You might say the Creator gave us the first measures of time--day and night, the lunar cycle, the solar cycle. With those three cycles, man was able to plant, harvest, plan for the coming year, and know exactly how long it would be before it was time to plant again. The marking of the solstices, the equinoxes, the lunar cycles had meaning and significance we've almost forgotten.

In our arrogant reliance on modern technology, we ignore the enduring importance of the first time keepers. Ancient wisdom isn't something to shove aside in our modern ignorance. There is great value in observing the old ways. The more modern medicine investigates, they more they prove the loss of health and well-being when we ignore the old time keepers. Now we work all night--and all day. We suffer from sleep deprivation because we no longer depend on the sun for light. We go, go, go, racing from one chore to the next, never resting, even on Sunday, the day Christians believe is marked in the Bible.

Maybe it's time to start marking the days. Time to really stop and observe the passing of the seasons. Time to truly understand the celestial clock and what a wonderful gift we've been given.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Shouting into the Wind

It's taken me a while to understand the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, but I finally believe I have it. I know why folks are so drawn to these and other social media sites.

It is our modern version of shouting into the wind.

Likely, there will be quite a few readers who have no idea what I'm talking about. Basically, it means no one is listening. On a more personal level, I remember many occasions when I went out to a deserted place and just yelled and screamed until I got all my anger and frustration out of my system. For the moment.

Posting on social media is the equivalent of shouting our deepest feelings into the void. I daresay most folks don't expect a reply. If you observe carefully, for most posts, there are five or six comments. Max. Now think about how many people are on Facebook on any given hour. Or twitter. And calculate what tiny percentage four or five people is of that number. Shouting into the wind.

You know ahead of time no one is really paying attention. That's probably why folks feel comfortable posting any old thing...including me. Yes, I'm guilty of posting odd stuff like what I'm cooking for dinner, or what the weather is where I live. Occasionally I post pictures of my socks or old photos of my family. The people who respond are generally people who find socks or old photos interesting. The average stranger doesn't notice my little post and think, "Wow! Look at that sock!"

I know this. Everyone knows this. But frustration sets in when our unrealistic expectations aren't met. Despite the reality of social media, we still (on some level) expect a response. I find it interesting that people mostly respond to tragedy. Second on the list is the rare 'good news' post. And after that I suppose the controversial/political post would drag in third place. Shallow waters out there on social media.

Heh. The post that attract the widest field of respondents are cute dogs and cats and other animals. Strange that they touch a responsive chord in so many. Perhaps, that's the ultimate message. Forget social media. If you're frustrated just go pet an animal. You'll feel better. And save time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Have You Ever?

Recently a new post that asked personal questions floated around social media pages. I've never figured out why anyone would answer the questions on a public forum, but that's another blog. This is about the quality of the questions. Mostly, they were stupid stuff like...have you ever smoked marijuana or...how many people have you had sex with?

Again. Why would anyone answer them? Don't they know employers (both prospective and current) look at people's pages?

Anyway, I've been thinking about this questionnaire. I think it's kinda wimpy. If you're gonna answer personal questions, then it should be more revealing.

How many people have you killed?

Do you prefer a machete or an ax?

When you bury the body, is three feet deep enough? Or do you really like to bury them deeper?

Do you think four participants is enough for an orgy? Or should there be more?

How much alcohol is too much? Two drinks? Six? Twelve?

How many times have you driven a vehicle while under the influence? Did anyone die?

How many times have you driven a vehicle while using your cell phone? Texting?

Do you believe rape is the same thing as consensual sex?

See...If you're gonna share personal information on the Internet...then, hey, let it all hang out. At least then the cops will have a starting place when they investigate.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Wizard's Tower

Once in a while a story or video will show up on my FaceBook feed demonstrating the way some individual has repurposed an item in an interesting fashion. Folks ooh and ah over the creativity and say they wished they were that clever. I don't think it's so much about cleverness as clarity. Do we see the possibilities? Or can we only see the decay?

A lot of my writing is repurposing the main story. I suspect there's only one stripped down, simple story in the world. The details we use while telling the story is what differentiates our version from everyone else's. Take the building in the picture. I saved it to my 'writing ideas' folder because I see it as a Wizard's Tower. It's not a tower from the past, but a tower in the future, a time when humanity is starting over because they were so bone-headed they nearly destroyed themselves and the Earth.

Most of the survivors are everyday people, working hard for their small isolated communities. But there are a few, very few men and women who have extra talents--abilities that allow them to forecast the weather or predict conflict or heal the sick. They are the wizards.

Now any sensible person knows such a wizard would need a special place to live. This wizard's tower is ideal. It's tall so the wizard has a clear view of the surrounding countryside. From the perspective of the communities around it, the high building allows them to know exactly where the wizard is. It's a beacon of hope and consolation. It's a central gathering place in times of conflict and disaster.

It's the face of the future and the past.

A Wizard's Tower.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The END!

Welp. The sock is finished. Right? Not so fast, pardner. The sock is finished, but it's not ready to wear. See all those strings hanging around? The knitter has to do something about them. Every single strand has to be woven in so it doesn't show--or come unraveled when they're worn or washed.

The more elaborate the pattern, the more strands to weave in. A simple, no frills sock will only have two strings when the knitter finishes--one at the edge of the cuff, one at the toe. But for every change of color, every mix of patterns, there will be extra strings. And those leave more finishing work at the end.

It's the same when we write. The more elaborate the story, the more strands to 'tidy' up at the end. There are always spelling errors, homophones, grammatical potholes to deal with. And then there are the lost characters, the story lines that disappear in the underbrush, the mysteries that are never solved.

Just as you wouldn't give away a sock full of strings, you don't want to give away a book with jumbled strands and knots. Clean it up. Make it as beautiful as you can...because how well you do that will determine how long that story hangs around for more readers to enjoy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Investment

More than once, I've written about my personal library. Some folks consider ownership of half a dozen books to be too many. Others--like me--will never have too many. But it might surprise you if I tell you I'm quite picky about how I invest my book dollars. I buy some books for research purposes. Most books I purchase for entertainment.

How do I choose?

Frankly, that is up to the authors. Yep. Whether or not I purchase a book is entirely dependent on how invested the author was in their story. By that I don't mean how much money they spent on book covers or publicity or conferences. I'm talking about how invested they are in their characters. Do they care about them at all?

There is a certain series of books I've loved in the past. I really enjoyed them and re-read them frequently. I was quite excited when the latest was released a few weeks ago. So far, I haven't made it past page three. The first few pages are obviously a set-up for the rest of the story, but I don't care what happens to the characters. I don't care!

I'm pretty sure the author doesn't either. Now, I know he's a more than competent writer. But this book? It's...cardboard. He's not invested in these characters. I get it that they're the bad guys, but that doesn't matter because a truly bad guy requires investment in the character. We have to care enough to want him vanquished. Think about Darth Vader from the Star Wars movies. He was the guy we loved to hate. We were invested in his demise.

A lot of authors wonder why their books aren't selling. They moan and groan over their non-existent royalties, even though they have fifty or sixty books published. Perhaps, just perhaps it's because they're not invested in their characters.

I buy mostly series. I freely admit I like following the characters, watching them grow and change as they face different challenges. I specifically like series that center around a group of characters that interact. If a romance is involved, that's okay, but the interaction of the group, the relationships revealed is what draws me to the series. Consider the television series most people invest their time and interest in. Is it the romance? Not likely. Mostly, it's the continuing cast of characters that keep people involved.

The writers and producers for a series are involved and invested in their cast. When they introduce abrupt departures and introductions of new characters, we get all riled up and annoyed. It's the same for a book, series or standalone. We invest our time and interest in the characters. When the author doesn't, it seriously annoys the readers.

What happens then?

We spend our book dollars somewhere else. I invest in several series that might not be prize-winning writing, but I am absolutely certain the author is well and truly invested in their stories. They care about their characters. Because they do, I do.

Investment.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pesky Details

So the adventurous knitter has completed their crazy, mixed up sock. Their friends and family rave about it. Some folks even want to buy it...or one similar. The thing is...most people need TWO socks. And most of them want a matching pair. The secret to producing that second sock is in the details.

The adventurous knitter must also be a meticulous knitter--with the details. A record of colors, patterns, and row numbers is necessary to reproduce a second sock. Any reasonably competent knitter can create a a single make-it-up-as-you-go one-off sock. Their only limit is how creative they want to be. The rub is producing the second sock. That requires attention to all the tiny details created in the first sock. Without those matching details, the outside world observes the unmatched socks and usually isn't the least hesitant in pointing out the errors.

Writers have the same problem when they pen sequels or series--especially if the stories take place in worlds the writer has created. In that first book, the one all the readers rave about, the writer has set up their unique world. They've made decisions about culture, government, monetary exchange units, housing, technology...a myriad of tiny, specific details that contribute to their story. They might even toss in some 'made-up' vocabulary. They've peopled their story with interesting characters and family relationships. Their readers take the story to heart and demand more, more, more!

Ooops!

How to recreate their unique world for a second...or third...or fourth story? How do writers corral all the pesky details so they match?

Most writers have some version of a series bible. Let's face it--sticky notes won't cut it after the fifty or so. Every writer has their own version. Some keep their notes in a spiral notebook. Others have three ring binders or electronic files. I know of a couple who keep Excel spreadsheets. Personally, I'm slowly transferring my notes to One Note.

The method doesn't matter. Really. There is no 'right' way. EXCEPT!!! Yes, there's always an exception. And? You can't consult a non-existent bible.

Oh, I can hear you objecting already! "I don't write series!"

My reply? How do you know? I have quite a few standalone books I never planned to expand into series, but the unvarnished truth is plans change. What I considered a standalone two years ago might be getting lonely this year and demand a companion. If that happens, then I'm prepared. I always read the previous books in a series before I start, but having the details written down makes all the difference, whether I create this year--or five years from now. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Making It Up As You Go

When knitting (or crocheting) any item, most folks follow a pattern. So many rows, so many stitches. There are an adventurous few who dare to add little flourishes to the pattern. Some may use more than one color. Or try different stitches in place of the ones indicated in the pattern. If their size requirements differ from the pattern, they might add or subtract rows, use a heavier or lighter weight yarn or perhaps change the size needles or hook they employ.

But this crafter is still within the standard parameters of the pattern. The changes they incorporate are minor and within the normal ranges for the item they're producing.

Then there are the others--the ones who never learned to color in the lines. That would be me. Oh, I put in my time learning how to knit from a pattern and produced plain, serviceable ho-hum socks. They're comfy and keep my feet warm. Unfortunately, they're not 'me'.

I love colors--the more the merrier--and frills. Give me cables and twists and polka-dots. I love texture and bobbles. So after learning what I needed to learn, I finally burst the confines of the pattern and embarked on my own journey, secure in my skills. I started my own make-it-up-as-I-go socks.

Writing is much the same. In the beginning, you start out with a learning curve. You gather the technical skills you need to write. Things like spelling and grammar rules and voice. After a while, you add flourishes. Interesting characters, off beat locations or even new worlds.

But you might reach a point when you just explode, creating new genres, occupations, cultures, and even new creatures. Maybe you'll want to write about blue people or giant carnivorous shadowdancer spiders. Who knows? You might even imagine a world where King Arthur and his co-horts are still creating mischief, where he plays cards with talking dragons and his nephews are firebird shifters.

Staying on the sane, safe path is perfectly acceptable. Many writers have had successful, financially secure careers by writing within the accepted parameters. We need those writers because there are readers who aren't ready for the more offbeat paths.

Then there are the readers who seek something wildly different, who need a new adventure between the covers. Those are the readers who need that writer who might not color within the lines, the writer who might say, I wonder...

If you're a make-it-up-as-you-go writer, then welcome to my world. Creativity and color and the odd character or three can capture the imagination, allowing readers to have their own 'I wonder' moment.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Mountain

Trestle View by Paul Gould

I married in my teens, had four children, moved from Chicago to Houston to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, and finally, in my forties went to college. Full time. While also working full time and wrangling four teenagers. It was a turbulent time in our household. On weekends, I climbed the mountain in the painting. 

There was a series of marked hiking trails that criss-crossed the mountain top. The route I used was about eight miles long. Up one end, across, down about mid-way, and then back along a rough track to the tiny parking lot where I left my car. I had a backpack of supplies--first aid kit, food bars, water, a book, and a rain poncho--and carried a sturdy five foot long walking stick.

The trail wasn't really a trail, but rather a rough directional aid that was partly stone covered stream paths, vertical climbing, flat granite slabs, and wild laurel. Overall, it was quite a bit more challenging than walking a loop around the neighborhood where I lived. Every week I arrived home at the end of the day with aching knees and sore muscles.

You might wonder why on earth I would do it then...week after week? Because it was the one place I was guaranteed solitude. The first time I climbed this mountain, when I reached the summit I looked out over the glorious Hudson Valley and felt this tremendous sense of accomplishment because against all expectations I'd beat my doctor's predictions. I wasn't in a wheelchair. I climbed that damn mountain on my own two feet.

But there were other benefits to my hikes. I desperately needed some alone time. There on the mountain top with only the birds and shy animals for company, I had the space and peace to deal with all sorts of issues that beset me on every side. I had time to pray or meditate or read a book or just look out over the valley. Each week I went back home fortified for another stretch of chaos and pressure from my job, my family, my school work.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure I would have survived without my weekly climbs. 

A few weeks before my graduation, on a whim, the hunk and I stopped at the Bethlehem Art Gallery not to far from where we lived. And this print was hanging on a wall. I fell in love with it, but it was far out of our price range--even unframed. 

Graduation day arrived. All of my children came home, even the one in the Navy. My parents drove up from Texas. My brother and his family came from Chicago. And in the midst of family and friends, the hunk hauled out this huge flat graduation gift. 

I ripped off the wrapping, wondering what it could be. And there it was, a beautifully framed and matted print of Trestle View by Paul Gould. It hangs over our bed now. We live far away from the mountain and I'm way past the capability of such a hike. But each time I look at it, I'm reminded of the summer I spent on the mountain top. 

Peace and temporary tranquility.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Worth the Price


I was playing a computer game this morning when I paused to marvel at the intricate artwork. And then I wondered, are the artists receiving the pay they deserve? Really?

That led me to another thought. Why do so many authors sell their books for next to nothing? Don't they have faith in their work? Don't they believe they are worth every penny? Oh, I know all the reasons authors list for under-selling their stories, but do they really make any money?

I'm going to go out on a fragile, moldy old limb here and speculate. If an author sells their work for pennies, aren't they sending a message they might not intend? Here's how I feel when I see a lot of books by the same author that are all listed at rock bottom prices:

A) The books are likely backlist so old the author no longer believes they are viable, but what the heck, whatever pennies they bring in is better than nothing,

B) The books are 'throwaway' stories, just banged out to keep the author's name in front of potential readers,

OR

C) The author has zero belief in the worth of his/her work.

There's a lot of conversation out there regarding book pricing. Many authors blame the readers, assuring other writers that readers won't spend the money to buy higher priced books. And therefore, the authors are FORCED to sell their books dirt cheap. Well, there IS a certain group for which this might be true.

But for a true reader, a true fan of your work, price will not be an issue. And word of mouth from true reader fans is the most effective publicity. Think about the years prior to the internet and social media. How did readers discover new authors? Through word of mouth. One reader telling another, "This is a fabulous book." 

And once one book is sold, if it's a quality well-edited story that captures the reader's imagination, then they'll search for other titles by that author. Regardless of price. Because the story is worth it.

So. Back to the beginning. Why are you under-selling your books? Are you worth the money? Or are you a cheap throwaway story? Only the writer can decide that. And the decision he or she makes can affect all the future books he/she hopes to sell.