Monday, March 20, 2017

Moses Was a Nag

         
Last fall one of my friends decided she would read the Bible in one year as her New Year’s Resolution. She went on Facebook and invited anyone interested to join her on this venture.  To her surprise, several of us signed up. She spent the last few weeks of the old year working up a weekly calendar and forming study questions to help keep us on task.

          Over the years, I have attempted this on my own but I usually lose interest by the time I hit Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Moses becomes a real nag, and I get bored with all the goat sacrifices. When this opportunity came up, I decided to try it once again.

          Why am I doing this?

          I consider myself intelligent and a voracious reader.  I taught English/Language Arts for thirty-seven years to students.  I have read most of the classics and the contemporary masterpieces out there.  Some I have read multiple times and can discuss each at great length, but I cannot say the same about the one, most influential book in the history of modern man – the Bible. Maybe if I joined a group, I could stick through it and get it done.

          We get a weekly reading reminder and those of us who are still hanging in there, respond to the prompts.  Some members share videos, charts, and research found on the Internet, and these really help to give me insight.

          Presently I am halfway through Joshua, and Judges is next.  Instead of using the questions our leader provides, I changed the study more to my liking. As I read each chapter, I go back and find one verse to underline.  In some chapters, I have trouble finding one that I like, but in others, I have trouble choosing only one. I bought an inexpensive monthly planner, the kind where each month takes up two full pages when opened flat.  In the far left square (Sunday), I write the weekly assignment and then use the squares for Monday through Friday to write one quote from all those I chose from that week’s reading. I use the Saturday square and any additional space on the far right to summarize the readings.

          I am in the my third month and as I go back, the quotes and the summaries help me understand how the covenant developed between God and Man.

          It is not fun or easy, but the more I get into the Bible, the more I feel a connection, something I cannot describe. I feel a presence.  It is like He is in the room, observing me, like when a parent stands back and watches a child struggle with homework. There is also a sense of accomplishment, and I hope He is pleased with my attempt to communicate with Him on a different level. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pet Shop


My dad loved animals so he would often show up after work with a dog that someone was giving away free at the office.

Our first dog was a brown, bull terrier mutt. The other dogs in the neighborhood were afraid of this small, muscular, brown dog, but he let my two-year-old baby sister pull on his ears and tail. Butch kept an eye on all of us, but he loved her best.  I witnessed the day he yanked her away from the busy street by the seat of her cloth diaper. He died when I was about eight or nine.

Dad soon after came home with another terrier mutt.  This one was all black and had a white mark on his face, so we named him Zorro like the TV character we all loved. He too was the lead dog in the neighborhood but this one loved my older brother best and would perk up every time my brother played with him.

About the same time, we owned Zorro, Dad came home with a full-blooded English cocker spaniel. We named him King because he looked like a lion with his golden mane of hair. He and Zorro vied for lead dog, but Zorro always won. He wouldn’t play with us. He knew how to unlatch the gate and would take off on adventures at will.  When we chained the gate to keep him in, he learned to climb a vine that grew over the fence. One day he disappeared, so someone may have claimed him for themselves, not knowing they had done us all a favor. 
  
Zorro died when my brother was a senior in high school and I was a junior. It was devastating for all of us, so we all vowed we didn’t want to get a dog any time soon. By then we were growing up and would soon have our own homes, so it would be up to us to decide on whether or not to own any pets.

Newly married, my husband and I decided to adopt one of his mother’s dog’s puppies. Our dog was a small, fluffy, wimp of a pet.  Duke was part beagle, dachshund, and terrier.  A true mutt.  We took the largest, thinking it would be a mighty warrior. It took him months to learn how to bark and even then, it scared him. In a fight, he always lost or ran. He was hard to train, but he grew up alongside our three children, and they loved him.  He was with us for fourteen years.

We tried our luck with two other dogs to replace the family pet, but a tiny Peke died the day we brought her home, and the other, a Pug, had so much wrong with him from his blood line being overbred, that we had to return him and demand our money back.  I had never cried for a dog before, but the day my husband and I took Bubba back to the owners, I bawled so loudly, I scared everyone, including myself.

The kids and their dad went in search of another family dog. My only stipulation was to bring back a short-haired dog, one easy to groom and train.  

They came back with a golden-haired Pekinese, the runt of the litter.  My husband thought it would at least stay small and cute.  It had a pedigree and papers to prove it.  It grew to be over fifty pounds and lived more than fifteen years.  In that time the kids grew up and moved away from home. I got divorced and lived alone.  Our big boy developed cancer and the vet said I would know when to let him go. When the day came, I made an appointment with the vet, and called the kids to come say goodbye.  He perked up as each one came to visit but he became a young pup and got up to play when the youngest came to see him.  

My son slept over that night, but before midnight, he woke me and said his beloved pet couldn’t wait any longer.  My son found a clinic open twenty-four hours and while he held his pet and best friend, I drove us there. He stayed with his dear doggy until the end.

HoneyBunch and I do not own a dog.  I have asked and he has said no, definitely no. His pet stories are harder on the heart than mine. We have had so many loved pets in our lives and hesitate about going through that again.  I love cute puppies and kitties.  I enjoy watching the shenanigans of my granddogs, but we agree to protect our hearts and to be selfish with our time.

I won’t say we will never own another dog in our life time, but for now, we prefer to live with our memories.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Bunch of Losers


They straggle in one at a time from the parking lot.  Most wear the same clothes they wore last week and the week before that and so on.  Some carry their possessions in old, grocery bags; others carry theirs in tote bags. They study the circle of chairs and each person selects where they will park their things before stumbling toward the growing line that is forming in front of the receptionist. 
One who has already done so digs into her bag.  Out comes a plastic container.  It pops open and delicious aroma fills the air.  All are hungry; fasting is a must, so several heads turn toward her as she digs into her breakfast.
“Next,” says the receptionist, and a woman slowly steps up to the table. 
She hands over her membership card, offers up a small smile and an excuse, and steps onto the scale to weigh herself.
It’s Thursday morning.  My weekly Weight Watcher meeting is about to start. We always register and weigh in first.  For this it is best to wear the same or similar clothes every week because outfits that weigh more show up on the scale. Every ounce counts when one is trying to lose weight and those cute, skinny jeans can weigh as much as five pounds. Those of us who have places to go immediately after the meeting bring change of outfits in our totes or bags. On cold days, we come in layers, but all of those are shed before we line up.
We also come fasting for the same reason.  One cup of coffee, even one slice of dry toast, might show up on the scales.  The savvy enjoy their breakfast after the hated weigh in is over and done.
No one says a word if the scale goes up and not down, but the person being weighed knows.  Suddenly that extra margarita she had last Saturday or those two doughnuts she scarfed into her mouth when no one was looking have come back to haunt her.
The leader starts the meeting.  A theme is presented; a question asked.  We banter; we offer solutions.  We lift each other up. 

We are a bunch of losers, but losers of the best kind.  We are losing weight and helping each other lose even more.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Mystique of a Good Critique


I belong to a critique group of nine writers, some of us are published authors and some of us would like to be, but we all bring to the group different degrees of expertise.  Some of us have a good sense of story, some of us have a good eye for mechanics and grammar, some of us have a good command of human dynamics.  We have been together for several years, so we keep each other focused on critiques of our work and not on criticisms.  If that should happen, we delve deeper into what caused the emotion.  Only then can we offer suggestions to the writer.  

“This chapter went nowhere.”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I didn’t like the character.”

A criticism is a judgment, a disapproval, based on an emotion.  Stated in such a vague or negative manner, it comes across as a personal attack of the writer instead of focusing on what the person has written.  It faults the person and zooms in on flaws and weaknesses.  It condemns what is lacking on the page and it is a painful censure of the person’s skill. Its offensiveness puts the writer on the defensive, and both parties gain nothing from the “critique,” other than ill will. 

How does one turn a criticism into a critique?

First of all, neither is painless. 

A good critique is an evaluation, an analysis, based on evidence.  Stated in thoughtful and detailed concrete examples, it looks at things the author has done well and at those that might need to be clarified or revised. A good critique looks at structure, trends, patterns, strengths. It focuses on the written page and how the author crafted it.  It is not all sugar and sweetness; it is specific and helpful.  If something is awry with the story or the structure or the semantics, then a good critique partner can help the author to find a solution and allow for improvement.

Secondly, it takes practice.  Learn how to turn a criticism into a critique.

“This chapter went nowhere.”

Ask for clarification.  “What were you trying to do with this chapter?  Is this chapter or scene necessary?  What other way could you say that?  Does it help to look at the scene before this or the scene that comes after?”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I helped you here with a few examples but you need to double check a good manual and learn their use.” Recommend a good grammar manual.  “From now on, double check your commas before handing out critique pages.”    No one likes to work with someone who continues to do the same proofreading mistakes over and over again, and depends on the critique partner or group to edit and proofread for them every week.  After one or two reminders, I stop proofreading mistakes that the person has refused to fix or learn to fix.

“I didn’t like the character.”

Question the author about this character.  “Is this character integral to your story?  I didn’t like this character; is that how you wanted me to feel? If not, then what was I supposed to feel for him or her?  How could you delve into their character more to soften/change/depict them differently?”  


          There is no mystique about critiquing well.  It takes practice and a dose of kindness. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Nine


Down the gravel road away from my house, they take their chatter, laughter, and energy.
There is a food stain on my new table cloth, dirt on the carpet.  The sofa sectionals are askew, and a blue ball hides under a chair.
Half-full water bottles sit abandoned throughout my house. Someone ate the leftover rolls.  The roast is gone, so is the mac and cheese, but there will be lots of salad for Grandpa HoneyBunch and my dinner tomorrow.
My grandchildren came to visit and they brought their parents with them. My two sons, my daughter, and their spouses are their chauffeurs and they generously include us in the upbringing of The Nine.
The quiet is deafening.  The house sighs.  I need a nap, but first I sit and smile, remembering the day and missing them already. 
Watching The Nine grow reminds me of how quickly time escapes through our fingers.  It brings back memories of when my children, their parents, were little and their chatter, laughter, and energy filled my days. The memories are sweet. 
So when I watch The Nine run about, chatter, eat up all the food it took hours for me to prepare, I am grateful to be around to see life repeat itself.  It is comforting to see it all happening once again, the wonderful moments I once took for granted.