Thursday, November 24, 2016

Exploding Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Compassionate Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reaching Out

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

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

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


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

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

Be all you can be.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

They are THEM, We are US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Billionaire Shifter Alien Cowboy Alpha Seal Vampire Prince

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

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

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

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

Give me a real hero.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Art of Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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