Monday, July 16, 2018

So I Prayed



          Walking into my fourth-grade classroom, the teacher announced a pop quiz over the history chapter she assigned for homework, the one I didn’t have time to read, because I had math homework, and science, and spelling words, so . . . I prayed and promised all kinds of things, if only He would help me get through the pop quiz without failing.
          My mom interrogated my baby sister about the pearl necklace she found in her jewelry box.  I was next, so . . . I prayed for forgiveness, not because I was going to confess my guilt since I was the one who played with it when it broke into beads, but because I was going to lie and weasel my way out of a spanking. By some miracle, my baby sister got blamed, no one got spanked, and I still kept my promise to be extra nice to her for a whole week.
          Fast forward a few years.
          I hate thunderstorms, heights, and scary movies.  They give me nightmares, so I pray and He sees me through my fears. Prayer also got me through the years of depression and grief when my first marriage ended and I considered suicide.    
          Every morning, I stood by each student desk in my classroom and prayed for the child who would sit in that chair. I prayed for them as children and for them as students.    
          I prayed every day on my way to work and on my way home for my own children, and especially for my youngest son while he was off being a Marine serving his country.
          I still pray first thing in the morning, and I pray again the moment I lay my head on my pillow at night. 
          Best of all, I prayed for HoneyBunch.  After my divorce, I was prepared to live the rest of my life as a single person. I was grateful for all my blessings, but if there was someone else “out there” for me, maybe He could send him my way. And He did.
          So, yes, I pray.  It is as natural to me as breathing or thinking or being. It gets me through the day.         

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Mother of a United States Soldier




My paternal grandmother saw three of her four sons sign up and go off to fight in World War II.  My maternal grandmother saw all three of her precious sons drafted in the early 1950’s during the Korean War.  Several of my male cousins, including my older brother, served and some died in the Vietnam war.  Those who came home were changed forever, but their parents stood proud, supportive of their sons’ service.
When the draft ended in January of 1973, many mothers (and fathers) rested easy; their sons could choose to serve or not.  Even with that freedom, some of my family, both women and men, have joined the US service and made it their careers.  We are proud of their patriotism and selflessness.
My youngest joined the Marines during his senior year and in June of 1999, just weeks after graduating from high school, he went off to boot camp.
He made a studied decision and though I cried about it, when it came time to drive him to the drop off point, he deserved my respect and loyalty.  He was a grown man and would always have my undying love.
From that day forward, I “had his six.”
He was deployed in 2001, 2003, and 2010, and with each deployment I noticed increased differences in him, so when someone disrespects the flag, trashes this country, and encourages divisiveness, my patriotism comes to the fore.  There are those who do not understand the immense sacrifice our military gives to create and keep this country safe.
For every problem, every injustice, every failing we see in this country, let’s work toward solutions and honor the sacrifice millions have made to ensure the survival of this country.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Ode to the Simple Sentence



          The marvelous sentence seems so simple a preschooler can string one together without thinking; yet, it’s amazingly complex in its construction.
          A composite of numerous careful, deliberate, and creative decisions, its basic construction can be taught easily; but only a dedicated wordsmith can transform it into a memorable work of artistry.
          Like any other aspect of language learning, we listen and observe before venturing to imitate and form a sentence.  We learn to speak by speaking; we learn to write a sentence by writing. 
But some writers venture farther; they create.
          Like their fellow artists - musicians and painters -, the writer looks at each single word like a beat on a sheet of music or a stroke of the brush on canvas. Each word is deliberate; every punctuation mark is a nuance filled with meaning.
          What needs to be altered? Cut? Revised? Expanded?
          The writer artfully and courageously choreographs each sentence. Clarity and intention, visual and rhythmic appeal, syntax and grammar rules – all color the canvas for innovation and uniqueness.
          The simple sentence becomes an extraordinary and memorable work of art.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Bookmarks



When I was in Catholic elementary school, the nuns gave us holy cards as presents or rewards.  A holy card is smaller than a playing card.  It usually has a picture on one side of the Holy Family, a saint, or an angel; and is either blank or has a verse or prayer on the other side.  One is supposed to keep it near to remind the believer to pray or trust in the faith. By the time I finished the 8th grade, I had acquired a stack of these. I still own some from those days, and I use them as bookmarks in my Bible and my books of devotions. In high school and college, I used a holy card as a bookmark in the textbooks of my most difficult classes.
When I taught school, my specialty was Remedial Reading, English, and ESL, all subjects that required the students to read on a daily basis in my classroom.  Since I could not hand out holy cards in a public school, I gave the students bookmarks I bought at school supply stores.  If money was tight, I assigned a classroom contest where the students designed bookmarks. I chose the top best and ran them off, cut them up, and distributed them.  The designers loved seeing their name printed at the bottom of the bookmarks, especially if they found me using one of theirs for personal use. 
I also recycled old playing cards and made these “bookmarks” available next to the library stacks in my classroom.  I used Uno, Old Maid, Go Fish, and the old alphabet and numbers cards from my children’s pre-school days. The kids got a kick out of this and my supply was often depleted. When I taught high school, I offered the students old Bicycle Playing Cards that had grown unusable from HoneyBunch and his family’s avid bridge games.
What can I say?  I love to read and the bookmark is an important accessory. I am tickled when someone sneaks a pretty keeper into a birthday card or on Mother’s Day.  Some in my collection are elegant beauties from foreign places; others are miniature works of art, but I do not want for bookmarks.  I love using old tickets from Broadway plays or concerts I’ve enjoyed. I have also used parking lot receipts, old airplane tickets, and, I confess, I have availed myself of colorful cardboard paint swatches one gets in the paint department.
The bookmark, like the holy card, is a marker in space and time.  A respite where we take a moment to breathe, get on with aspects of life that need attention, and come back to a warm welcome.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Note to Self: How to Write Gooder



I belong to a writers’ critique group that meets once a week. I’ve been at it now for seven years, but the group has been around for twenty. Amazing, isn’t it?
We swap pages and give each other feedback on our writing.  Some of us are published, but all of us are writers. I have learned more from being a member of this group than from any class I have ever taken on the subject of being a published writer.
Here is what I have learned (the hard way) that might help other aspiring writers.
1.    Get into the practice of formatting your manuscript pages in a professional manner. Type it in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and double space it with a one-inch margin all around. Indent your paragraphs. Learn to type in a header with your name and the title of the manuscript, and number your pages.

2.     Study how to use all punctuation correctly, especially the use of the semicolon and the quotation marks. Become an expert at it (or as near an expert as you can be.)

3.    Learn to discern the different points of view (first, second, third), and if you move from one to the other, how to do it correctly.

4.    Learn to discern the use of verb tense (past and present, for example), and if you jump from one to the other, how to do it effectively.

5.    Study sentence boundaries. Look at where each sentence starts and where it ends, and be able to identify independent clauses, dependent clauses, run-ons, comma splices, etc. Learn how to punctuate them and use them well.

6.    Make sure objects (including characters) do not appear suddenly when they were not there in the previous paragraph or scene.  A knife should not show in a character’s hand suddenly, or a character should not be standing when he was kneeling a moment ago, unless you go back and write the action or the prop into the story previously.
7.    Go back and search for passive verbs and rewrite the sentences so you remove most of them.

8.    Read through for adverbs and rewrite the passage with descriptive verbs or phrases instead of limiting it to an adverb.

9.    Learn to describe emotions with physical characteristics or actions instead of using adjectives.

10. The most important tip of all is to learn how to keep the exciting promise you offered your reader. Each scene, each chapter, must move the story forward. If it doesn’t, then it is not necessary, and you will lose your reader.  Each scene or chapter must keep the reader engaged, and if it doesn’t, then it needs to be removed or rewritten so that it does.