Thursday, December 4, 2008

Packing Time Again

Snug is a great word, and so descriptive of today. December is perfect for Christmas music, and it compliments our view, filled with a parade of deer wading through the snow-covered grounds. The pines are decorated, truly evergreen beneath their crystal frosting. They don't need ornaments. They couldn't be more beautiful. 

I'd love to be decorating inside tomorrow, preparing for Christmas. I'd put up the nativity set and then place my Santa kneeling by the manger over near the fire. It's one of those paint-it-yourself plaster craft statues I had to try my hand at. I made a few as gifts and finally got one for myself a few years later. I'm so glad I did. Seeing Santa kneeling like that puts both sides of Christmas together like a meditation for me, just as some of the music does.

The snow has stopped falling, so I could get John to hang lights around the deck tomorrow. That would be nice, too. I'd be out there taking photos for my homemade Christmas Cards if we were going to actually be here. This year, however, we'll be gone, heading out Saturday. I've selected cards from a store for the first time in years since we'll be away from home while John works on missiles for awhile. 

I tell him to pretend it's Santa's shop, and they're toy missiles. He just looks at me. I guess this is something I should take more seriously. Leaving home during the holiday season is serious enough. I have to find something to joke about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

Tomorrow we're going to the Cracker Barrel with our neighbor friend Doug for Thanksgiving Dinner. It will be the second time I can remember ever eating Thanksgiving Dinner in a restaurant. This time we're doing it because the expense of the big meal we want doesn't make sense when we're preparing for a trip to California for John to work at the Naval Base. The leftovers wouldn't be properly enjoyed. Also, a turkey for two isn't very cost efficient, and that's what we want. 

The last time we headed out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving Dinner, Jeremy had just turned three. I'm not sure why we decided to go out that year. Mentally calling roll, I remember Mom was alone, still a widow. Ellen and her John, with their two boys had John's parents with them. My John and I only had two sons then, and I believe Edith, our best family friend ever, was also with us. All together there must have been at least a dozen around that long table. Jeremy was the youngest, and very excited to be in a very good restaurant.

For some reason the waiter started right next to Jeremy and proceeded around the table, away from him. Not particularly used to being last—or being ignored—Jeremy began quietly enough. 

"I'd like a salad, mister."

"Be quiet, Jeremy. He'll get to you. Here, have a cracker," or some such motherly platitude would slip from my mouth after each each person was waited on, and Jeremy made a somewhat louder request for a salad. The young waiter never once looked at the boy. He never smiled or in any way broke that professional polish that comes from serving many years in a quality establishment.

After working his way around the table to it's final small occupant, he looked down and said solemnly, "Master Jeremy, would you care for a salad?"

Jeremy looked astonished. "Yes, please. How do you know my name?"

The gentleman looked very serious and said, "You just look like a Jeremy to me." Then he tempted him to order more than salad, which was more than I had been able to do. He got a very nice tip. More important to me, he helped make a memory, and was never forgotten.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should I Apologize?

Once again I came home from the critique group Tuesday night feeling depressed over my writing. I had brought along my blog on the fires. Whether or not you read it, I'd ask you to read it now before going through the comments made by the group. Then I'd like to ask for your comments. I'm at a point now where I feel like I shouldn't be writing, if I could inadvertently be insulting firefighters when that is the furthest thing from my mind. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the link to my original blog.

Now that we have that taken care of, here are the comments, separated by person, although I'll not identify who made each comment. You wouldn't know the people in the critique group, at any rate. I won't put all the comments down, but copy completely the ones I feel sum up their opinions.

#1:  I had trouble knowing what your thrust and purpose was. The way one should pray? It seemed there was a bit of anger here and it never became clear to me what caused it or what you were trying to accomplish by expressing it. So the questions not answered for me are "what?" and "Why?" It sounds as if you have a beef with mothers who don't pray as you do? Who use "Thy will be done?" 

#2:  The way this piece began, I thought you might circle back to the fires again. It wasn't clear if you were making a commentary on the decision of the fire department, decision about not containing anything yet, etc. I think many mothers can connect with the selfish prayer part. It was jarring. The connection could be written to make it more clear.

#3:  I think that spending time tooting your own horn dilutes the impact of your message.

#4:  Awkward. Feels too long. Mixed messages. Are you trying to say selfishness is good or bad? Are you guilty or okay with being selfish? Not sure what you are trying to say.

#5:  This is an emotional piece, but I'm not being drawn into it. The ending needs to be stronger. Define the purpose better. Are you criticizing the firefighters, or those who want to be them? Honoring them or mothers? What are you doing? Unclear.

#6:  It's both personal and impersonal. I can't quite get the box into Hyde Park. So I recommend narrowing the viewport, more thoroughly correlating or juxtaposing firefighters and soldiers and assume a stance (even implicit) that someone's ox is being gored. 

#7:  Lacks focus and purpose. Cliched.

#8:  Seems patronizing. Why don't you want them to be in harm's way? I'm not 100% sure how these two things connect—the fires and your sons—I was definitely left wanting clarity. It felt choppy and disconnected. It think it sounds a little callous given the immensity of the destruction in California. Maybe show some empathy... [this one goes on for a long time...]

#9:  Abrupt. Lacks transition between its parts. Good emotional content.

#10:  The problem with this piece is that it puts firefighters in a very negative light. I was in NY for 9/11. Here, the firefighter is not the hero anymore.

#11:  I liked it.

#12:  Very nice.

So, as you can see, ten out of twelve people didn't get it at all. Two others left their papers blank. I've spent a day and a half in a funk. Was it really that bad? Didn't anybody understand that I think the firefighters handle an almost impossible job that is so terrifying I couldn't imagine keeping my sanity if one of my sons was regularly going out trying to do it? That I admire the mothers with the courage to do so to the point that I regularly support them in my prayer life? 

Maybe I'm just not good enough to be a writer. It makes me sad, but if ten out of fourteen writers don't get a simple piece like this, two only like it enough to write down a couple of words, and the other two just leave the pages blank, what am I to think? 

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Your Husband Travels

My daughter in law's sister wrote a blog recently about how things go wrong whenever her husband leaves on a business trip. It seems that every time he takes off, her children get sick. Normally I detest anything that reeks of one-upmanship, but it reminded me of a story from my younger married days, and I couldn't resist. Marrianne, this one's for you.

Working in telemetry on the missile program for the Department of Defense, you could loosely call my husband a rocket scientist. He flew all over the place, leaving me at home with the three boys frequently. Since there were nearly four years between each of our sons, it was normally chaotic, with each of them needing something different from the only parent available. During their school years, they were usually at three separate schools, three separate ball fields. I used to joke that I needed to have either an out of body experience or an out of mind experience. 

The most devastating of John's business trips for me, emotionally, came on one of his flights to a missile base in Hawaii. John woke up early and took the bus to Los Angeles International Airport. From there he was to catch his flight to Hawaii. John is not a really talkative man. Back then he was downright silent. He'd be gone for a couple of weeks, and during that time, we'd never hear from him. This was before cell phones. 

As it happened, John arrived at LAX early and managed to catch an early flight.  He didn't bother to inform the base that he wasn't on his scheduled flight, nor did he let me know. He just saw an opportunity to leave early and took it. Upon landing, he took an inter-island flight to Kauai, where he rented a car and checked in at his hotel, pleased to discover he had enough time to take a couple hours nap before reporting for duty at the missile test site. Consequently, he wasn't aware that the plane he was scheduled to arrive on had crashed while landing and not everyone survived. People were looking for him.

I heard about the crash on television. Knowing it was his plane, I called the base. They couldn't tell me anything. His name was not on the list of survivors. We all sat by the phones for about three hours. I was hysterical, crying and praying. John finally woke up, shaved and got into his rental car. Upon arriving at the test site, he caused quite a stir. They had him call the base, and then me. What did I do? Well, I yelled at him, of course!

That was the last trip John ever took without calling to let me know he had arrived safely. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Do They Do?

Sociology and Philosophy were two of my least favorite college classes. Perhaps I had uninspiring professors. Looking back, that's a sure bet. I did enjoy the sociology text book, although we liked to poke fun at its title, "Unobtrusive Measures in Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences." Too bad the class lectures weren't interesting. I still enjoy reading things today that hinge on sociology, and even consider philosophical topics enough to irritate some of my family members, so perhaps I simply took the classes too early to appreciate them.

What started me thinking about this was my recent bout with illness. I haven't been sick in so long that I it was strange to sit quietly watching television while coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose. It dawned on me, and I've been thinking about it since, that many people live their lives that way. They don't wait to get sick before spending a week—or a lifetime—mindlessly camped in front of the television. It's all they have. Could it be all they want? 

At least I had my yarn work to occupy my mind while I sat there. I can tell you what's on most of the time. Nothing. News and nothing. And it's bad news. I'm so glad to be feeling better.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Novel Pet Peeves

I not only write, I read. I'll admit, that's an understatement. I've noticed a trend over the last few years that has progressively burrowed deeper under my skin. Here's my short list of things I wish I'd never again turn the page and find in an otherwise fine novel...

The word "dollop." It seems that every book has to use that word somewhere. Can't someone use a dab, scoop, or spoonful? How about a bit? Anything but a dollop. I'm just so tired of the overuse of that word.

Rolling of the eyes. Someone is always rolling their eyes. Use dialogue. Use other body language. For heaven sake, stop rolling eyeballs around. It's impolite, and it's been overused. I'd like to get through a book without anybody doing it.

Even if I had to live with the above two, I could handle it, if only I could legally banish everyone from the following—letting out "a breath they didn't know they'd been holding." When I hold my breath, I know it. I'll bet you do, as well. So why, in so many books, do characters seem to not be aware of when they're holding their breath? And why do otherwise careful authors, who can construct a riveting story that connects all the dots and carries a good message, feel it necessary to poke this inane and superficial piece of nonsense in there? It's ridiculous. It's distracting.

There. I've vented. I feel so much better. I'll continue to feel better now, until I come across the next character holding her breath, without realizing it, and rolling her eyes while she adds just a dollop of cream to her chapped hands.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Selfish With My Treasure

Rejoicing over the bit of snowfall here in Colorado, I was unaware that Southern California was once again losing homes to wildfires. The fires broke out in Montecito, six and a half miles from Santa Barbara. It's on the Ventura County side of the city, and as of this morning, well over one hundred homes have been lost. According to the fire department's press conference this morning, they're not even thinking about containment yet. Phrases like "not out of the woods" and "when the afternoon winds pick back up to around 70 mph" made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Why did I call this blog "Selfish With My Treasure?" I raised three sons in Southern California. I talk to God a lot. Sometimes I call it prayer. More often, I think of it as conversation, even though I know I can't hear Him very well. I try to remember, at least most of the time, that what I want is not always the best thing that could happen. There have been times that I've gotten what I wanted and it hasn't been at all a good thing. Conversely, some of my most reluctant experiences—those I would have turned from if given a choice—have resulted in my deepest and most rewarding blessings.

One prayer I fervently sent heavenward while watching all three of my precious sons grow was, "Please, God, don't let them grow up wanting to be soldiers or fire fighters." I never qualified it. I never once, to the best of my memory, said anything remotely resembling "unless that is Your Will..." It was a selfish prayer, and a regular one. It was accompanied by another, for all the mothers who sent their sons and daughters out to battle the flames and wars for the rest of us. 

I have a fine imagination. I can string together words, envision a story, travel in my mind to places I've never been. I can't conceive, in all the vastness of this mind, a greater pain or emptiness than losing a child of any age. Selfish with my treasure? You bet. At least I recognize them for what they are—always have been. With every fire these days, with every news story of battles and war, my prayer now is, "Thank you for allowing my selfishness. Please protect the treasure of the less selfish mothers."

First Snow

Waking up to a light powder of snow this morning filled me with a sense of joy. It was still dark outside. That made sense because it was just after four o'clock. The only reason I peered out the window was that the room seemed to have a pearly glow that usually means there's a wonderland reflecting back into the warmth within. 

I went into the living room and turned on the deck lights, standing there to watch the slow swirl for a few moments. Then, with a yawn and a stretch, I returned to the bedroom and crawled back under the covers. I even closed the window first for John's sake. He hates it when I leave the window open while it's snowing.  

We don't even have an inch on the ground yet, and nothing new is falling now. I'm not sure, but I think it's done. I realize what's on the ground won't last long. Our temperatures should rise into the forties today, and the rest of the week will be in the fifties and sixties. Still, I always feel the sense of celebration overtake me, like blessings drifting from the skies. 

I'm overwhelmed daily with the realization that we live in a wonderful place. Inside and out, I could never ask for more—and I have never been happier anywhere.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frivolous Lawsuits

I once lost a friend because I refused to sue someone. My friend was a lawyer. The person I refused to sue was a young driver who was underinsured. It's a long story. I couldn't see that ruining his financial future would ease my pain, and at the time I really didn't understand the lifelong implications of my injuries. Even if I had, I still wouldn't have gone after the kid's future earnings. I still had to sleep with myself.

Tonight I heard on the news that Batman, Turkey, is preparing to file a series of lawsuits against Warner Brothers, Christopher Nolan (Batman—The Dark Knight's producer) and possibly DC Comics as well, for using the name Batman without the town's permission. They further allege that the town's high female suicide rate and a number of unsolved murders are related to the name theft and ensuing publicity.

After ignoring the use of their name since 1939, many people are now asking—and I certainly join in the question—do the current intended lawsuits have anything to do with The Dark Knight grossing over $994 million worldwide so far? Some days I think I should just stop watching the news.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Moving In Again

Normal people simply don’t wear stripes with polka dots. Too late, I remembered my mother’s words. New town, new house, new kid on the playground—again. Working little knitting needles back and forth, making a long strip of nothing, I pretended not to stare at the groups frantically embracing the freedom of sunshine while the outer classroom wall warmed my backside.

Pulling more yarn from my oversized pockets, I realized I had settled onto a pile of dirt. Stripes, polka dots and grime—great way to fit in. I won’t care, I promised myself, and I won’t cry.

As an adult, I look back on all the times we moved into a new home, State, neighborhood, and school. I realized that memories of this move stood out. It was the first time I had consciously decided not to try to make friends or adapt. What would be the point? We were transferring mid-year, and my new classmates would already have formed their tight little clicks. Besides, even if I made friends, we'd never be staying long enough to keep them.

Breakfast had been sad. Daddy was scowling, his uniform so creased with starch it looked unbearable.

“We’re nomads,” I accused, brave for once, saving all my fear for the class of fifth graders.

“We’re military, Kathleen,” was his curt reply. No smiles. No sympathy. Around the table were the tolerant or sullen eyes of brothers and sister who had also lost friends and schools to the constant travel, and Mama, determined to act cheerful.

Sitting against the school yard wall during the lunch break, I reluctantly remembered the scene. Misery doesn’t love company. It prefers to wallow in the belief that its own is unique and precious, shared by none. Unequaled. A hanging thread on the hem of my dress distracted me from thoughts of eggs gone cold amid the silence of unspoken complaints. I pulled the tread, watching it unravel like my past life. The hem parted, drooping like my spirits as the bell clanged, signaling the afternoon’s confinement.

Students were filing inside when I heard the raucous sound of laughter. I erected a glazed wall between my eyes and the students before glancing over. No one caught my gaze, but somewhere between knowledge and suspicion, I always figured the laughter must be at my expense. Quietly joining the end of the parade, I left morning behind.

What can we say as adults about our childhood memories? By the time I graduated high school, I had been in sixteen schools. We traveled more than most military, I think, since Dad was helping set up nuclear power plants. That doesn’t take long. Get it done and move on. We saw most of the country, though, and learned a great deal. As Mom said recently, we were all changed, but not damaged.

Life is full. Some people learn that earlier than others. Insecurity, loneliness and pain can’t occupy the entirety of a human existence. They only serve to illuminate the intermediary spaces. Like a puzzle, I filled my box with pieces, and my self-portrait developed: music, books, writing, crafts, humor. As the picture began to unfold, people gravitated to it, some interested to glimpse details, some willing to share their own.

I love to count my blessings. I just think we should remember our trials, as well. They help make us who we are.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Day

It will be another day before I direct my mind toward turning the contest I didn't enter into a blog. Today, however, I am very thankful that I have finally finished all my work on baby blankets and winter-appropriate baby hats. I was determined to finish them before turning my attention back to writing. Post Office, here I come—uh, probably tomorrow...

With that in mind, I am now preparing to sit down in front of the tube with a cup of laced cappuccino to watch Dancing With the Stars. For once, I won't have my attention distracted by counting stitches, changing colors and following a pattern. 

Can I survive this mindless ninety minutes?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Un-Entered Contest

I almost entered a writing contest. When I saw the topic, I was excited, and immediately wrote my entry. If I had just mailed it in, I could now say I had entered a contest. I'm just not a real confident person. I got a few opinions. Two friends said it was great, a real winner. Another thought it needed some work, so I took it to the critique group.

I got so many conflicting opinions at that group that I just packed it all away, figuring I'd look it over when we returned from our trip to California. Unfortunately, I came home too sick to even think about it, and by the time I remembered, the deadline was the next day. Oh, well. I almost entered a writing contest. 

I think tomorrow I'll turn it into a blog. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to edit it any from my original or not. After all, some of the comments the group members made were good—some weren't, but some were. Let's see how much time I have tomorrow.

I only have a few more yarn hours to go before I can get back to my writing without "Granny Guilt."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Still Sick

It's no fun being sick. I've spent a lot of time in bed with the phone in the room turned off. That would work perfectly, since I can't hear it ring with the door closed, except that John comes in and wakes me up to tell me who called, and whether or not they left a message. Gee, thanks. He's looking out for me.

It's been so long since I've been sick, I've forgotten how annoying it can be. A nose can only get blown so many times before it gets raw. Even double-strength, extra-soft tissue feels like sand paper after a few days. The hot decongestant teas don't taste as bad as some of the cough medicines, but I'm not sure they work any better, either.

One good thing to have handy is the hand sanitizer. We keep it by every sink. Emptying the dish washer today, I had to use the stuff four times—once before I started, after washing my hands, and again after each time I stopped to sneeze a few times and blow my nose. I did finally get it all emptied, though (the dishwasher, not the nose).

It's amazing how happy John can be with a simple meal. Hot dogs? Macaroni and cheese? He's fine, as long as there's enough to fill him up. I'll get back to more creative cooking as soon as I feel human again. We're both hoping that will be soon. 

It's often said that whatever doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. I'm not sure I believe that anymore, but if it's true, I should be really strong when this goes away.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

We arrived home Friday, late afternoon, and I'm nearly settled back into my comfort zone. We actually arrived over an hour later than necessary. Here comes the story John doesn't think is very funny. Give me credit—I didn't laugh out loud while it was happening.

Due to the type of trailer John rented to pull his old Blazer back here, we were unable to back up. I'm still not sure I understand why, but the simple fact was that if we attempted to go in reverse, we'd simply crash the car's rear bumper into the trailer. Cool. I wanted him to prove that to me, but I got "the look" instead, the one that says, "Just take my word for it." 

Just this side of Cheyenne, Wyoming, we stopped at the Flying J truck stop for gas. We have a reward card, so get up to a few cents a gallon discount, depending on how often we've used them recently. The station was packed, so I jumped out to use the facilities inside while John waited to get to a pump. While I was inside, John changed lanes. Unfortunately, he got in a lane facing a car with no one behind the wheel.  When I returned to the car, John finished pumping gas and climbed in, but we couldn't go anywhere, because the car we were facing was still empty. We waited.

"Why not go in and ask them to tell the guy to move his car, Honey?" I suggested. He wanted to give the guy another ten minutes. He finally went inside. The young man sauntered out and said he was "Sorry, but I locked the keys in the car. I'm waiting for the locksmith." Then he went back inside. It was another hour before we got out of there. While we were waiting I bought us each an overpriced sandwich inside, and got some Chex Party Mix I had made that was still in the back, and we had a little picnic. 

Highlights of the trip, as always, were the people we saw. Mom and then Ellen and Johnny get special thanks for putting up with us... or should I say putting us up? I now have three pounds to lose. How did that happen? I got to have a very short part of a day with Sherrie, and John and I enjoyed a dinner out with Al and Becky. Tighe even made a trip up to Ellen's from San Diego to see us. That was definitely a treat. Way to go, Son. You made me feel incredibly important.  

There were some differences this time, other than not seeing Emma or Pastor Stan, and a few other people like Bill and Liz. It was a quick trip, after all. We noticed that there were fewer new car plates in evidence in California. Usually I notice an abundance of new cars, and it's fun to notice when they were purchased, knowing the "happy plates" as Ryan calls them are only good for sixty days. This time, I didn't see very many, and the ones I saw were primarily on used cars, many with noticeable dents or flaws. Interesting. 

Another thing I noticed that most people probably would not is the lack of out-of-state license plates traveling around in Southern California. They're still there. The week we were there, I got eleven states. That's really low, compared with our last trip. Also, most of those were close, like Arizona and Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Many of the others came from semis. Of course, we saw Florida. They, like California, have good reason not to stay home, I guess, since I see them everywhere I go. Once we were back on the Interstate, we got a lot more, but still not as many as normal. I can say that definitively, since I've been playing my license plate game from many years.

We took a different route home this time, going up through Utah so we could stop and harass a couple of people. We spent a few hours with Joe and Heather, then drove a little more than an hour to Bountiful to see Schmath and Ryan. We shared a wonderful Mexican dinner at a cool little place (next one is on us, Ryan...) and hit the road before it was obnoxiously late. Such are the highlights, from my point of view. 

My ears are still plugged, but they are improving. I have no idea what the sermon was about this weekend, but I sat still, and tried to hear. That should count for something, but I'm not sure what. My chest is contested now, too. I'm just glad to be home. Maybe tomorrow we'll find out when John needs to return to California, and I'll decide if I'm going along. I'm really not sure at this point. I'll see how I feel in a day or two. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hearing--Or Not

This is the second consecutive trip to California where I've developed sudden severe hearing loss due to congestion in my ear canals. Voices, including my own, sound like they're coming from a distant and very poor quality speaker that somebody has hidden beneath a pillow.

At this point I figure there are a few options. The last time this happened, it took two trips to different doctors and ten days on medication before it gradually began to improve. After about a month it returned to normal, which was nice. Few things about me are truly normal. I can go the same route, hoping for the same slow progress while I continue to say, "Huh?" everytime someone speaks to me.

Staying above 6,000 feet seems to work really well, but I guess that's not too practical, unless I can get all the people I love to come to me. That's not been as successful as we'd like. Somebody said if I held my head under water for about thirty minutes, it might stop the problem. That sounds like it would stop aging, as well.

Suggestions would be welcome.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunny California

Whenever we visit the sunny State of California, I envision God enjoying a good laugh at my expense. There are things that were good about our life here, but many things we were very glad to leave behind. It never fails that we revisit the things better left behind on nearly every trip.

The plan to stay with my sister and her husband was short circuited. About two hours before our arrival we got a call on our cell phone. Thank goodness for those technological wonders. Ellen and Johnny were under mandatory evacuation because of the fires. Did I mention the fires? People forget that Southern California is a desert. Little water. Very little green. Lots of dried brush. Lots of hot wind, even if you don't count the politicians. The fires beat us here by a couple of days.

We finally did get the all clear to spend some time here with Ellen and Johnny late yesterday, and that's been great. We always manage to have fun together. However, I'm not sure if she has been more unhappy with the hot weather, or me. At least I know I'll be going home to Autumn soon. She's pretty tired of the hot dry days.

I love having email access again. I sped off a few notes, including one to our old (not in years, but in the sense of previous) pastor. I mentioned that we were here for ten days. We'd already had the bumper to bumper traffic, the Santa Ana winds, the heat wave and the fires. I asked if he knew when the earthquake was scheduled for, because I was sure there would be one before we left next week. He was hoping I'm wrong, but so am I.

John's going to be towing back his "P.o.S." Blazer when we head home, so we're not going through the Eisenhower tunnel. Instead we're driving through the Elk Ridge and Bountiful areas. If that is of particular interest to you, email me before we leave on Wednesday at break of dawn (or sometime shortly thereafter) and we'll make plans to wave on our way through your town.

One final piece of news. John's day at the missile base was productive. It appears as though they will have a three week contract for him, and will need him to come back for that in four to six weeks. That translates to Thanksgiving with the family here instead of in Connecticut. So, kids, can you think of an alternate time period when we could come and bond with (nearly) new baby Kate and spoil Ashley while we're at it?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Trip to California

The night before each trip I look at John and say, "In a perfect world, what time would you like to hit the road in the morning?" Then I set my internal clock for whatever time he tells me, and somehow I manage to wake up about an hour before the designated hour. I was somewhat amazed when he told me he wanted to be on the road by four a.m.

Okay, fine. We're all packed. I'm not sure what I've forgotten, of course, but we'll do without whatever those things happen to be. Now I'd better crawl into bed and pretend to sleep. He's already dead to the world. I wish I could fall asleep like that.

Oh, well. We always have fun once we're on the road. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


No matter how hard I try, I know when packing for a trip, I'll end up forgetting something. It probably won't be anything obvious, like my glasses or medications. I'll remember my camera and a few books. Clothes aren't a problem. Count the days, figure out how many outfits are needed. It's not like we dress up. 

There are a few awkward decisions, of course. Can we really drive all the way to California without my guitar? Can I live without my computer for two weeks? That means my manuscript edits will take me hours—maybe days to transfer to my writing program when I get home, rather than doing them as I go. Right now I red-line outside on the deck, then bring my pages inside and change the manuscript on the computer and make a back up copy immediately. I'm obsessed.

Beyond the decisions, though, and the obvious things that are always packed, are pesky items, never the same, that I manage to remember somewhere about four hours from home. I'm trying to remember them now and make a list. The car charger for the cell phone is one we've forgotten in the past. Last time we had it on the list, only to find we left the cell phone behind. My sister's Christmas present definitely needs to go with us. It's breakable, and I don't want to risk putting it in the mail. 

I'm gazing across the foothills from my happy place here in the living room. It's obvious why I forget to pack things. They all belong here, like me. It's just so difficult to get the people I love to pack up their belongings and come here instead. Especially Mama, since she's nearly eighty-eight. I used to love traveling. Part of me still does, but most of me loves home more. Maybe I'll pack in a day or two.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Not Being Young

Most of the time I appreciate being the age I am. I don't grieve over lost youth. In fact, I remember all too well the problems inherent in being young, let alone immature. Age does have some benefits. It's difficult to get older without learning a few life lessons. It can be done, of course, but it takes more determination than I've had.

Lately, however, and it's obvious this has been coming from the first word written above, I've been longing for those innocent days of childhood. I don't refer to running around outside playing while mom cleaned the house, although that was nice. I wish it still worked that way. I'm referring to that glorious time of youth when I trusted the government to have the country's best interests at heart, rather than merely the best interests of the politicians.

Tonight I sat through a listing of the "pork" in the financial bail out bill. First it made me angry. Then I got sick. Now I'm just sad. Millions of dollars are being offered as bribes to get our representatives to vote for a piece of legislation they know is not a good bill. We might agree that something needs to be done, but bribing our politicians with favors unrelated to the bailout with money paid for by tax dollars garnered by those of us who did nothing wrong is beyond disreputable. 

I find it difficult to sit down and blog lately. It's been a place for my joys and memories, but as the politics get dirtier, and my fear for my beloved country mounts, I find it difficult to escape to that happy place. So tonight we'll watch the Vice Presidential debate, wondering if anything said will offer hope to a country that gives its own congress a mere 9% approval rating. 

And if I don't blog for awhile, please forgive me. I'm just feeling very old lately.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moving In

My childhood was filled with sudden relocations, city to city, school to school. Dad was in the military, and as an adult there isn't a single childhood friend I can contact to share memories. I can look back and pinpoint a dozen individual days where I faced a new school in a town or city far from our last post.

A recent gift subscription to The Sun Magazine, a quality publication filled with amazing pieces written by professional and amateur writers around the globe, filled many hours with pleasure and introspection. Near the back of the volume, there was a section entitled "Readers Write." In an offset box, it listed the the rules for publication of the short non-fiction pieces on the pages that followed, along with the topics for the following months. Due November 1st was "Moving In."

Could anyone understand the joy and angst of 'moving in' more thoroughly than I did? Most likely someone can, but from my point of view it seems unlikely. Our own experiences always seem more clear than those of others. I took a couple of days searching through my memories of being the new kid in school—being uprooted from one set of friends and driven cross-country to a new home, a sea of strangers. I chose fifth grade.

There were many reasons for my choice. First, it was the only time I remember deliberately complaining to my father about the situation before heading off to school. He had problems of his own, and I got no sympathy. Second, it was the first time I had decided not to even try making friends. We would only be at this location for a short tour, and the school year was more than half over. The circles would be tight, and I would already be on the outside.

I learned so much from our travels that, as my mother recently said, I wasn't damaged. "Just changed," I told her. She agreed with that, saying that we all were, but that she liked to pretend at the time that it didn't bother her. Maybe she should have let us know. Maybe not. Too late now, anyway.

I'm not sure what the rules are about posting things on my blog if I'm entering them for publication, so I won't put it up now. However... once they decide whether or not to publish it, I'll be allowed to post it. When I do, I'll put a link back to this piece. It will be several months, as they don't decide until February or March, and then publication will be in May. Don't hold your breath that mine will be there. I'm sure they'll have thousands of entries.

Some memories reside like permanent companions, warning or comforting as we trek along our daily paths, making choices and climbing from the valleys to the hilltops. Others slip away. So many school days have vanished in the mist, and that's a good thing. The ones with the most important lessons hang around. Which school days do you remember?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bones—Last Season's Cliffhanger

We don't follow too many television series, but one of our favorites is Bones. Last season the series ended with a cliffhanger. The group of investigators was at a celebration. Some of them were taking turns singing. The final scene shows Boone getting shot and Bones holding his unconscious body, blood everywhere. It looks very serious. Fade to black. Roll credits.

This season John and I were eager to find out how it played out. We were pretty sure he hadn't died. After all, the show was continuing for another year, so he must live, right? We tuned in to a two-hour special where Bones and Boone are in Europe. Well, we figured, this must be a special, and they'll get to the conclusion of last year's story line next week. Nope. Here we are, two weeks later, and we're still wondering what happened.

Does anybody know? Did we miss something? We have a DVR that automatically tapes these shows, so we didn't just forget to tune into the program. Did Fox forget to air something? Was it preempted by political programming? Does anyone know? Did anybody else even notice? John is really going crazy about this, so any help would be appreciated. I suppose I could write a conclusion for him, but it wouldn't be the same.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Political Test

Email is a marvelous thing. My spam filter makes sure I generally only see those items that I've indicated come from personally approved sources. Tonight one slipped through, and I actually opened it. The title intrigued me.

It was a political poll, and after I completed the 51 test questions, I found out that the answers were scored by one of the major polling agencies. You'll recognize the group, probably the most famous, although I won't give them free advertising. 

It didn't take as long as I thought it might to answer the questions. They were pretty clear cut, covering everything from the economy to abortion, and my opinions on drilling. The final screen that flashes up simply states that I had disagreed with Obama's positions on X out of 51 answers, and that they hoped the test would help me to make an intelligent decision on election day. It also goes into detail on the national polling statistics for the questions, which I found fascinating.

I was pleased to note that there was no hard sell. Nobody tried to tell me why my answers were dumb. It was obvious the site wasn't in favor of Obama, since there was an ad for "The Audacity of Deceit" on the 'click here' page. They didn't take it any further than that, though, so I'll pass along the test for those of you who know your own mind and want to confirm your choices, as well as those of you who know how you feel but not how it lines up with his platform. If I find one for McCain, I'll put that one on as well. I'd be interested to see my percentage of agreement there. (It cant be worse than zero, can it?)

To take the test, click here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn Gold Festival

What a wonderful week we had. First Ellen and Johnny, my sister and brother-in-law, came for a fly-through visit on their way to the wine festival with our brother Pat on the other side of the Rockies. The trip was all too short, but wonderful nonetheless. We celebrated Ellen's birthday at the local steakhouse, then spent a day roaming around, driving through Rocky Mountain National Park, having a picnic at Benson statue park in Loveland, and seeing the local sites. I made my not yet famous Bison Chili for dinner. Crock pots are such a wonderful invention. I considered hiding their suitcases, but knew it wouldn't be fair. I didn't really want to be fair.

They no sooner left than we got the sheets changed and welcomed our friends Dick and Carol from Denver. Together we spent two days at the Autumn Gold festival at Estes Park, gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The festival is better known as "Beer, Brats and Bands," and we partook of the latter two. Free admission gives you two days of music. It's a beautiful spot for concerts in the park, and the festival welcomes in the autumn colors, although the leaves are just now beginning to turn. We'll go back in a couple of weeks and take photos when the aspens are in their glory.

At the end of two days, my fingers were itching for my own instrument, but I was so too tired to play by the time we returned Sunday night. Bed was too tempting to ignore, and I'm not sure I'm recovered yet. The old saying is that variety is the spice of life, but it's not true. It's friends who add the spice. This week was spiced perfectly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Memoriam

I found out last week that an old friend and co-worker of mine, Susan Hanlon, passed away after a terrifying illness. I sent her a card recently after hearing how sick she had been, and have no idea if it even arrived in time. She's beyond those cares now, of course, but it's another grief, not having known sooner. Not having seen her in years.

Times like this make me think a lot. This time, my memories go to shared laughter, hard work, joint goals and long days in a company we both admired. I honestly don't know anyone who didn't appreciate Susan. She was one of those special people. Secretary to the CEO, she could have been full of herself, but wasn't. Words come to mind like quiet and hard working, but also fun and interesting. She took time to be nice—not just to department heads and their assistants, either. She probably knew just about everyone in the company.

I tend to think in terms of music and verse, especially when ordinary words fail me. Since I was thinking of the Rubaiyat last night, it's still in my mind, so I'll share another verse for Susan and her family. It's perfect for her, and I'll think of her as she was next time I pass a garden, or when my beds of Iris bloom next spring.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head. - Omar Khayyam

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Send Key

Whatever your computer labels it, you know the power and trepidation inherent in pushing the send key. Regardless of the importance of the document, once you hit 'send,' you're done. The email is gone, and any changes you might consider at that point are moot. I won't be reading my first thirty pages again this week. The button has been pushed. (That almost sounds like someone else did it.) I forwarded my thirty pages to the editor today. 

That sounds so easy, doesn't it? After going to a conference and learning more than I thought my brain could comfortably absorb, I couldn't simply go home and email off unedited material. I had to give it one more redline, using my new tools. On top of that, I decided my readers needed to meet the villain quicker, so I wrote and inserted an entire new chapter. That was fun. Perhaps you wouldn't think so, but I was the kid who liked essay questions.

It's been sent now. My understanding is that the turn-around time for editors on requested manuscript pages is typically six weeks. I'm thinking Halloween. By then I should have the entire manuscript edited—again. This is only revision four, after all. I would imagine any good editor is going to offer another set of insightful suggestions after that. I'm not expecting an offer, but I do believe my good story will eventually turn into a great book.

I'll close with one of my favorite verses of poetry, another of those things I learned 'way back when,' and never forgot. Omar Khayyam, a Persian poet about a thousand years ago, wrote some wonderful short verses that have been translated into English. I've had several copies of his Rubaiyat over the years, and given several as gifts. This is just one of the verses that stick in my mind:

The moving finger writes, and having writ 
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit 
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a Word of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

End of the Conference, and the Gift of Memory

Please don't tell the organizers of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference, but they could have charged double the fees, and the attendees would have still received full value for their money. It will be many months before I'm able to incorporate even half of what I learned in the workshops into my writing.

Networking is another aspect of the experience. I've often figured this type of gathering would be one group you could call the heavy hitters, surrounded by a perimeter guard wanting to earn their way into the inner sanctum. That misconception was crushed the first time I asked a question. I wasn't treated like an interruption or a nuisance. My question was welcomed and answered, and then I was probed for information about my own writing, where I lived, who I was... The entire weekend was like that.

Why does it always surprise me when 'people of power' turn out to be so human? Interesting, often funny, many of them as quirky as I am, I found that even suffering severe brain overload, I was having a ball. 

Strangely enough, one of my sweetest conference memories came from someone who wasn't there; not even a writer. During three days so filled with wonderful conversations and classes, I got a bonus. Late last night I received an email from a mother in New Delhi, India. Her son was being asked to learn a poem for school, and she wanted him to memorize something special. She remembered snippets of a poem she had learned as a child, but could only remember the beginning. She did a google search, and found it on my web site.  

As a writer, you have no way of knowing how far your words will travel, or who will be happy to read them. Click here to see that blog and poem. I didn't even know you could find me on Google...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Writer's Conference, Saturday

It's hard to imagine getting more for your money than has been available to those attending this conference. I've learned so much, and had so many opportunities to meet other writers, as well as editors and agents, it's been overwhelming. They're not just here, though. They're fun and helpful. Every question I've asked has been met with answers or an offer to find them. 

Tonight at dinner I was scanning the program and saw the name Jasmine Cresswell. Wow, I thought. I've been reading her books for years. There she was. She's been a member of this group since at least 1985. She won an award that year, Fiction Writer of the Year, so I guess she was probably a member before that. It was a treat to see her.

That wasn't my only treat today. I got to meet Denise Little, editor at Techno Books. We met so I could pitch my novel, and she requested I send her my first thirty pages after the conference. (With bells on...) Don't get too excited. That's not a sale, but it's still thrilling to a novice writer to have someone who's been in the book publishing business for over thirty years to be interested enough to want to read thirty pages. 

Now I lay me down to sleep. Hopefully my cast of characters will stop telling me what they meant to say, compared to what I wrote in the novel, for the duration of the night. Then I might actually find the sun up when my eyes pop open in the morning. For all of you who have so nicely kept me in your thoughts while I progress through this giant learning curve—blessings back to you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Writer's Conference, Friday

I need my young brain back. It's hard to believe how much information came my way today. Some people sat with miniature tape recorders. They were obviously smarter than I am—or maybe they've just been to these conferences before. I have brain overload. I took notes. Lots of notes. Not nearly enough, though, I'm sure.

It's been many years since I wanted so badly to have an out of body experience. The last time was when all three boys had baseball games on different fields at the same time. Today there were three workshops in different rooms simultaneously all day long, and I had to choose. The next two days will be the same, except that Sunday will only be half a day followed by a luncheon and keynote speaker. 

I could write a fantasy about someone who could be in three places at once. I just can't pull it off in real life, and that's what I need right now. If I could actually do that, I suppose they'd charge me triple.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed

We arrived at the posh hotel in Denver where the 25th Annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers "Colorado Gold Conference" will take place. John got me all set up, including the computer, printer and portable plug-in cooler. I asked if he was sorry not to be staying, since it was such a fancy hotel. He said, "No!" Then he drove off. I'm styling solo. 

I sat in the room for a couple of hours. The first hour I watched a History Channel special on 9.11. There's another one coming on in a few minutes. After that I spent an hour trying to figure out how to turn the cell phone ringer back on. I finally looked up the manual online and worked it out. It was on, as John kept saying, but the volume was set to zero. No wonder I couldn't hear it. He called three times while I was searching the 85 pages for the hidden information. My next phone will be one of those senior citizen specials. Point and shoot.

Not long ago I ventured down to the Club Lounge, only available for "Elite Members." I didn't realize I fell into that category until I checked in today. Free hors d'oeuvres and soda, plus a bar (not free but reasonable). They had really great food. Sautéed vegetables, meatballs, big blocks of fancy cheeses and french breads, juicy grapes... heaven. Free breakfast begins at 6 a.m. Whoopee. I hope it lives up to tonight's fare. I didn't even stay for the desserts tonight. They were coming out in another half hour or so, she said. I was afraid to find out what it might be. Lucky me. This is only available to the top three floors.

Maybe I'll go stand on the balcony and yell at the traffic twelve floors below. Perhaps it'll be necessary to sleep with headphones on tonight. I'm used to crickets, not vehicles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Flying the Flag

I've received about five emails now, reminding us to fly our flag on September 11th. Most people probably think we're strange—John raises our flag daily, weather permitting, and lowers it at the end of the day. As a veteran, he's proud of that flag.

We arrived home on 9.10.2001, from an anniversary cruise to Alaska with my sister and her husband. Jeremy, our middle son, called me from Portland shortly after the plane hit the first tower. He was up early, typical for him as part of his work as a member of the Culinary Arts school he was attending.

Our youngest son, Benjamin, was in NYC at the time, on a mission. I'll admit to having a personal struggle with him going. Our beliefs had diverged incomprehensively to me. I wasn't even supposed to have his home phone number, but we had caller ID, and it registered when he called home for his permitted Father's Day call. I had written it down, but had never used it. I just wanted to feel that I had it if there were ever an emergency. When the second plane hit, I dialed the number. When he answered, I burst into tears.

"Mom? You're not allowed to call me. Hang up! Mom? What's wrong?"

I was finally able to calm down enough to make him understand what was going on. They didn't even know. They were listening to inspirational music while doing their morning scripture readings. After we hung up from a much too brief conversation (he promised to call later, and it was much later when he finally did) he and his roommate(s) went to their roof and stayed to watch the towers collapse. Then their neighbors insisted they return back into the apartment building.

One strange thing happened that afternoon, and I want to make it clear that I don't believe in coincidences. I'll backtrack and give a bit of history. Ben and I had seen Forrest Gump together when it was in the theatre seven years before. That day he gave me one of the best compliments a parent can receive. Walking out of the movie, he asked me if I remembered when Forrest tells Jenny that she was always there for him. Of course I remembered that scene. It was beautiful and amazing.

"That's the way it is with you and me," he said. "Even when you're not right there with me, I know you're there to help if I need it."

I was speechless. Sometimes people say things that you never forget—never want to forget. He was only thirteen at the time, but had managed to touch me so deeply that the echoes of his words would always remain in my heart.

On September 11, 2001, as a country sat staring at the devastation transmitted nationwide through our small screens, the mail was delivered. Among the stack of catalogues and bills was a postcard from Ben. It contained a short note, dated four or so days earlier, telling of his visit to the twin towers. The picture on the front was a proud image of the Twin Towers, standing tall over Manhattan. From the antenna on the roof of Tower One, Ben had pasted a cartoon-like bubble with the simple message: HELP!

No. I don't believe in coincidences. I was meant to receive that postcard the day it arrived. There was tragedy, but my son was alive. I had heard his voice. He had been in The Towers days earlier, but not when they went down.

We don't get a road map through life, and few answers we don't discover on our own—and even those aren't definitive. We do, however, get our share of miracles.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Angels and Demons

Did you read it? Remember the scene in the Geneva lab with the scary Hadron Collider that could end the world if it were to be activated? Did you think it was fiction? They're testing it tomorrow. 

There was a piece in this morning's newspaper about some of the scientists receiving death threats. Tonight one of the news commentators said a tongue in cheek farewell—just in case the thing produces a black hole that eats the earth. That is one of its supposed possible side-effects.

Knowing how YouTube loves to get in on the act, I went for a look. Sure enough, there was an assortment of insane selections as well as three normal documentary features. I selected The Hadron Rap. (Not as good as Sheep Dog Rap, but "good enough for now," to quote Weird Al.) 

Enjoy. And if the Collider test prevents me from ever blogging again, you've been a very tolerant audience.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


In life, there must be a difference between riding a roller coaster and changing a tire in the desert.

That sounds simplistic, but think beyond the first waves of deliberation. If the amusement park ride were straight, and on level ground, it wouldn't be exciting. No one would wonder if they had the courage to try. The sudden curves, dips and climbs are the genesis of the thrill. 

At the side of the road, tilted on the blistering pavement of a deserted two-lane highway, a lone driver stares at a flat tire. His destination may be remote, even seeming unreachable. Does he have the skill needed to repair the tire? Are the proper tools available? Is assistance accessible? Will time and budget stretch to compensate for the delay?

The one thing both riders need to remember is to truly contemplate their conveyance. The thrill of the ride doesn't make the roller coaster car itself a thing of beauty. Once the spin ends, you can always start again, but it's the ride, not the vehicle that gives lasting joy.  In contrary fashion, the flat tire cannot denigrate the actual vehicle in the desert. Even a luxury auto with every known convenience will need care.

Light bulb moment. Epiphany. I've had my roller coaster ride. It was thrilling, and the memory is lasting beyond the fireworks at the end of the night, as often happens after a grand visit to the Magic Kingdom. Now that I'm driving cross-country, did I not realize there would be a few flat tires? Was that short sighted or arrogant? Now, where is that tool box? (Triple A, anyone?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Advice to Writers

Write. That's my advice to everyone who wants to be a writer. That's where the joy is. 

Once the manuscript is finished, don't worry about trying to sell it. Leave that for your heirs. If they want to sell it, let them. Just start another book. You'll be happier. Sitting at the keyboard letting the story pour out of you is the only place where the true spirit of creativity takes flight. The constant second-guessing and trying to please the unknown masses of editors and agents, critiquers and readers will simply fill you with a deep internal suspicion that you may be inadequate. 

What have I been told by those who have read parts of this book that took so much from me? 

Some have said it moves too slowly, and needs to be sped up. Others have said I need to slow it down and put in more description.

Some have said my writing is lyrical and flowing. Others have said my writing is too stylish, as if I think perhaps I should be paid "by the word."

Some think my characters are charming and intriguing. Others feel there are too many of them, and that I should remove most of them and make it a romance between two of them, making the remainder either go away or become simply peripheral.

The most disconcerting, however, is the one thing that most people agree upon. I need to start with a bang, which I do not. I need to drag my villain to the front page. I'm told my readers won't wait twenty pages for the danger to begin. 

I wonder if any of them read Nora Roberts new book "Tribute," where there is really no danger apparent for about a hundred pages, then it hits the fan. I wasn't bored. Yet I'm being told readers can't wait twenty pages? Wow. There sure are a lot of rules in writing now. I think I've mentioned that before. I'm still stunned by it, but the fact remains that no one in a position to get the piece published will even read the manuscript if the first ten pages don't grab them unless I have "a name," like Roberts does. 

So I've ignored the butterflies in my stomach as best I could. I've edited the manuscript several times, and still not printed it to take along with me. I have ignored writing in my blog, calling my friends, working on my yarn projects... all the things I normally enjoy. Looking back over the time since finishing this first novel, I know I've been a little lost. It hasn't been much fun. 

We'll see how this workshop goes. Perhaps what I'll learn is something I already knew. I can write. I can't sell. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Welcome Advice

When you let people critique your writing, it's impossible to tell what you're going to hear. One person will call it lyrical, while the next will ask if you expect to be paid by the word. 

Today I got the most interesting critique ever. I'm still smiling. This will be my shortest blog to date, since the entire purpose is to pass on advice. It was given to me by someone who reviewed the two most recent chapters I posted to my online group.

The concern of the person giving the critique was that I should not take comments of people too seriously, and forget whose novel it was. The final remark is the one I plan to enlarge and hang near my computer, where I can see it while I write and edit.

"No rule should be followed off a cliff." Can I hear a loud "Amen?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

What Did You Learn in School Today?

I wonder if Mrs. Dixon is still alive. She was my fifth grade teacher. My first impression has lasted all these years: the woman could bore paint off a wall. I doubt if she ever inspired anyone to learn a thing. 

Actually, I'll immediately take that back. She inspired five of us to learn American sign language. We'd split up the history assignments. Her tests were multiple choice. She just wanted names and dates, not reasons and causes. It was dull, dry and boring memorization. When the teacher doesn't seem to care, the students don't either. It never felt like learning, even before the cheating started.

Desks in her classroom were arranged in a circle. The five of us would sign the answers back and forth during history tests. It was unbelievably easy. We all aced the tests, since we only had to learn a fifth of the work. Since we were all A students, we were never suspected—never caught. And we did learn something. It just wasn't history.

It's been over fifty years since I managed to cheat in fifth grade. I'm not sure why it still bothers me so much, but every time after that when I wanted to cut corners in class, all I had to do was think of fifth grade, and it would stop me cold. 

So if you're out there somewhere, Mrs. Dixon, I am sorry I did it. I could have learned all the answers by myself. In fact, I usually did know them, but there came a point when I didn't know how to extricate myself without losing the friends. (Some friends, huh?) Luckily my family was transfered before I got into real trouble. 

Looking back, it's probably poetic justice that I remember the name of the boring teacher, but can't remember a single one of those exciting friends.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Secret

After thirty-two years of marriage, the question of whether or not there's a secret to staying together begs to be asked. There are probably many secrets, one for each couple who makes it into double digits and still manages to treasure the time they spend together.

I'd like to say that the secret is simply "to embrace your differences," but that's not going to happen. It's too much to ask that one will lovingly accept an empty sock drawer while the other is busy writing a novel... especially when the one looking for socks has no interest in reading. It's equally impossible for the one writing to ignore the shock of searching for the leftover half of a roast made lovingly the night before only to find that the entire thing was gulped down for a lunch that could easily have fed three people. So that can't be the secret.

It would be humorous, perhaps, to continue with a litany of those things that don't constitute the secret ingredient. Instead, I'm looking back on our many years of shared laughter, so I'd prefer to concentrate on what does work. 

We listen—even when we disagree. We laugh, even when it's aimed at ourselves. He's learned to share the remote. I've learned to put head phones on, rather than complain about the HAM radio static. He adds water to his coffee rather than expect me to drink the weak stuff. I don't expect him to notice my hair cut, even if he drove me to get it. We're more spontaneous. We like getting lost together, and travel is a big part of our lives. He supports me, even when he doesn't 'get it,' like the writing. 

So none of this is really a secret. It can all be contained in a few words. Learn to enjoy each other. Happy Anniversary to us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pocket Stew

By special request, I'm handing down one of my favorite kid-friendly recipes that's also easy on the budget. It has the additional benefit of being so simple to prepare that you won't need to pull out notes each time you make it. Some children will prefer it if you omit the onions. No problem. Add mushrooms or olives if you want. This is one of those meals that's easy to adjust for a family's individual tastes.

So here's to Lisa and Dan...

Pocket Stew
Ingredients: (approximate)
1 Package Pita Pockets
1 Lbs. Ground Beef
1 Large Onion, chopped
1/2 Cup Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
1 Large Can Potatoes, Cubed
Bacon Grease, oil or butter
1 Clove Garlic, minced well
Parmesan Cheese

Chop onion and sauté in bacon grease (or whatever)
Add cubed potatoes, stirring until golden. Add parmesan.
Remove from pan.

Sauté ground beef and drain.
Add onion and potato mixture and stir well.
When hot, add minced garlic, stir.

Reduce heat to low.

Split pita pockets in half and toast, opening them up when they come out of the toaster.

When the pockets are ready to be filled, remove filling from heat and stir in cheddar cheese.

Stuff the pockets and serve.

Goes great with applesauce, cottage cheese with fruit, or a green salad.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

USS Montana

Some things you just have to share. I heard about this many years ago. Eventually, someone turned it into video for a commercial. Then, of course, it landed on YouTube. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spice of Life

When I think back on my life, it's a series of songs. One comes on the radio. If it's I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles, I immediately think of chicken salad sandwiches, big crisp apples and icy cold chocolate milk on the quad at my high school. Lush green grass underneath us, we'd sit and talk, listening to music piped out from big speakers. 

The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Everly Brothers, Doors. It was quite a mix back in the sixties. It's funny. They play those same songs all over the nation now, but they call them oldies. I guess that's what I am. One of the oldies. After school I'd go home and get out the accordion and practice until my sister wanted to tear my hair out. Hers was too pretty to tear out. 

Music was important. Dad would come home and play his guitar, and the best times of all  were listening to him play. I sure wish we'd had a tape recorder, so I could hear him play again. Even a scratchy tape would sound like heaven to me today. Les Paul, Chet Atkins. He sure knew how to copy their styles. Too bad I didn't decide to pick up a guitar while he could have helped me learn.

One of those dumb questions I'm always asking people is if they'd rather be deaf or blind. Obviously, nobody wants either, but if you had to take one or the other, what would it be? Could you choose if necessary? Sunsets are great, but you'd never forget them. I'd miss looking out over my yard, seeing the deer and rabbits. But not to hear music? Not to know the voices of my grandchildren, or the song of wind in the trees? 

I know. I'd lose a powerful gift with my eyesight gone. Couldn't drive. Probably couldn't crochet anymore. Couldn't paint. Have a hard time reading. Typing might be a problem for a while. But to live without music? Nope.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Fig Tree

The day Jeremy came home from the hospital, John's parents and sister traveled quite a distance to see the new baby. Tighe was nearly four. He was proud of his little brother, and had been anxious to have us return home. There had been no signs of jealousy.

It's important to note that John is the only dad Tighe ever knew. His biological father never stuck around to meet him. John and I married just before Tighe's second birthday. He loved John's parents, and called them Grandma and Grandpa. 

When they arrived at our home, they brought along a fig tree. It was about three feet tall, and with great ceremony they planted it in our backyard. It was to celebrate this new life. I was very touched that they would think to do this for us. Then we went into the house, and Grandma and Grandpa took the baby. Grandma held the little boy on her lap and looked at her husband with tears in her eyes.

With Tighe standing right in front of her, hand on her knee as she held the baby, she said to Grandpa, "Isn't he beautiful! Our first grandchild!"

Tighe's face fell. My face froze. John left the room. Grandpa nodded and took the child from her. To them, this was blood of their blood—thus, their first grandchild. 

I'm not sure what I did. I was too mad to handle the situation properly, and soon realized that Tighe had slipped out of the room. Searching for him, I found his room empty. I finally found him in the yard. He had taken his little plastic hatchet and chopped down the fig tree, about three inches from the roots. 

John's sister found us outside by the tree. I was holding him, and we were both crying. The hatchet was lying by the splintered pieces of the tree. She sat down and took Tighe from me. "Babies are pretty useless for a few years anyway. I'll bet you have some cool toys. Can we go play?" she asked him.

Taking him by the hand, she led the way to his room, and they stayed there until the grandparents were ready to leave. It was never mentioned again, but I've always thought she was one of the biggest people I've ever met.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


While visiting someone's blog the other day, I noticed a little map. It had red dots on it, and one corresponded to my town. Wow, I thought, they know somebody who lives near me! After looking really carefully, I discovered they also knew somebody who lived in the same town as my son, and even his in-laws. 

What? OK. I finally figured out that it's a tracking map. Anyone who visits their blog is added to the map that day. Cool. So now I'm trying to determine if I want a map on my blog page as well. Where would I put it? 

I spent a couple of days analyzing potential options. I visited the map web site and realized that I had six choices of pin style. Eight colors. Wow. I spent a great deal of time designing my map. I decided where it would fit the best. What colors would match my background. I had it pretty much arranged. Then I had an ugly thought.

Back in the sixties there was a saying: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Suddenly I thought, what if I put up a map, and nobody visits my blog. I'll have a fancy map, and no pins sticking in it. Do I really want statistics? 

I concluded that there was a reason for the old saying ignorance is bliss. You'll notice there's no map in the sidebar, but I'm smiling.