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


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


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 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 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


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.