Monday, December 31, 2012

Life is What Happens


Every year I make resolutions.  Some folks think I am foolish for doing so, but it lets me feel as if I have some control if after all  “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” 
The year 2012 was full of sorrows. 

I lost a precious grandson, a toddler, and I lost my older brother. Several of my friends lost husbands, mothers, sisters, and sons – all just as precious to them. I do not know what we are to learn from this other than life is fragile and temporal. It reassured my belief that there has to be more than what we know of existence.  
I broke my right foot in June.  Bummer. It took six weeks and not eight as the doctor predicted to recover, but it restricted my exercise routine for the next three months. My tootsie still tires easily but it doesn’t keep me from getting into trouble.  
Then there was that “other” inconvenience when I discovered I had Type II Diabetes.  Rhubarb! (That’s my version of a cuss word.)  I‘ve learned to live with it. I take my meds and watch my diet.  

The year 2012 was also full of successes and blessings.

In June, I became a grandma for the eighth time.  He is beautiful and smart and energetic. His mommy and I made a pact – I get to sit him for one whole year.  She gets to gain some mileage on her college degree, and he gets a reprieve from day care until he can communicate a little better.
Besides attending five symphonies, six Broadway plays, one Rodeo performance, and several concerts, HoneyBunch and I took a couple of small road trips. But the highlight came in May when HB dragged me off to China for two weeks.  I climbed the Great Wall, rubbed noses with a Terra Cotta Warrior, and ate funny, squishy things with chop sticks.  
Amid all this, I worked on my writing career. I attended my weekly writing group, three conferences, and several book club meetings. I finished one novel and then reworked another one entirely. I also entered a writing contest. Though my entry didn’t do well, effort counts, so yay me.  
I also voted in the national election.  I studied the candidates and the issues, then made my choice.  Kind of like the writing contest I entered, my nominee didn’t do well, but there is no shame in having convictions and standing by them.

So here comes 2013, and if “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” I have made my resolutions. I wrote them down in my journal back in September and regardless what life has in store for me, I will persist and plug away at them.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Yes, Virginia . . .


Yes, there is a Santa Claus.  There, I’ve said it.
He may not dress in a red suit and drive a sleigh driven by magical reindeer.  He may look more like Mommy and Daddy and drive an econo car, but he exists. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.”
The world out there is ugly and cruel, a nightmare where incomprehensible things happen in front of and to our babies, so why not allow them a joyful childhood within the safety of their homes, among the people who love and understand them the most? “There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.” How wonderful to listen to their giggles, or to watch their eyes when they open their presents or see the feast you set before them.
We can argue religion or commercialism, but who ultimately teaches that to our children?  Who controls that within our homes? 
My three grew up knowing that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, yet they wanted to pretend and enjoy the magic of Santa Claus as well. I saw them play with the baby Jesus statue in the Nativity Set. They marched the Three Kings around the dining room looking for the star.  They’d kiss the baby and tuck him in at night, yet they also watched every Christmas special on TV and wrote letters to Santa, knowing full well they were writing them to me. 
If the gift giving gets out of hand, whose fault is it?
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Allow your children the use of their imaginations.  Believing in him is no different than playing pirates or pretending to be a princess, getting lost in a book, or cheering for our favorite sports team. Believing in him teaches them that being good and working hard will be rewarded.  Someone loves children so much he wants to bring them joy.
“How dreary would be the world if there would be no Santa Claus!” How dreary would be our world if we didn’t have the laughter and the innocence of little children.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Ugly Christmas Sweater



I realize I have no one to blame but myself.  One look at my wardrobe as a career teacher and I realize I misrepresented myself. My real persona has a T-shirt and jeans, old rocker chick vibe, but that is not what I wore to work for thirty-odd years.
I owned an extensive mix and match “uniform” of shirts and blouses, dresses, pants and skirts in the school colors.  Some of my tops were emblazoned with the school mascot across the chest, on the back, and sometimes both.  I was an Indian, a Falcon, a Wildcat, and a Rocket during the day, and a regular person at night and on weekends.
My jewelry and accessories consisted of the same kind of stuff, plus I added “seasonal” pieces, like Christmas socks and special holiday shirts.
I was easy to shop for, and over the years, students (and their parents) gave me dozens and dozens of earrings and pins that went with my teacher uniform.  I have almost every piece of jewelry that comes in the shape of an apple, a school mascot, or in the school colors. If I were to wear them all at once, I would look like a conventioneer.
The biggest surprise (and disappointment) was the year I got THE CHRISTMAS SWEATER. It is a red, knitted vest covered in a half-dozen Christmas scenes.  Things dangle from it and scream, Look at me!
(May I refer you to my first paragraph; the one about my biker chick persona?)
I have never worn it nor have I thrown it away. It is tucked in the back of my closet and I run into it every time I reach for my other holiday tops and socks.
If you can figure out why I keep it (when I got rid of my other teacher-ish wardrobe pieces), please let me know.  It totally baffles me. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

What is Family?



I’ve never been alone.  I am covered in family, an overabundance of sibs and assorted other relatives.  I even worked at a profession for thirty-something years that afforded me little privacy.
I know, I am blessed, but . . . I envied the only child, the sequestered nun, Tom Hanks in that movie about the island and the basketball.
For years I drove to and from work in absolute quiet, reveling in the brief solitude of my very own space, no one talking at me, breathing my air, or demanding conversation.
Don’t get me wrong.  I love my family and my friends, but I also love being alone. When someone complains about being lonely, I offer them a few dozen of my relatives.  They thank me thinking that I jest, but I am dead serious. My family will cover the whiner with their effusive love and dizzying attention, and before long, the lonely soul will see my side of it (and long for silence and a space of their own).
What defines family?  Do you have to live under the same roof?  Do you have to be related in some way?  Is there a minimum number of people to be considered a family? I am not talking about the cold definition for family that one finds in a dictionary or in the IRS 1040 Instruction booklet, but something that encompasses all the different constellations within our homes.
Why can’t a household with one person and a pet (or pets) be a family?  What about two people who live together, related or not, married or not?  Why wouldn’t they be a family?  We lost the Ozzie and Harriet family a long time ago, and what we have now is just as valid and just as comforting.
Come on, I know you cried when Tom Hanks lost Wilson in Castaway. Tell me that didn’t feel like family.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Five Hair Mistakes



     
In the 60’s, everyone wore their hair long, men and women.  I grew mine past my shoulder blades, parted it in the center, no bangs, and topped off the look with “John Lennon” specs. It took my sister an hour or so every weekend to iron (yes, iron like in Sunbeam with Steam) it straight.  It was that or sleep in 16-ounce can curlers.
          In the 70’s, I lopped off all my hair and went Afro.  A severe Afro that stunk like burnt tires and required a steel pick so dangerous it qualified as a lethal weapon. The poof dwarfed my face and what was left was covered in large dark glasses that made me look stoned.
In the 80’s, the look was the wanton, “loose,” natural curl, the kind that created long coils and fell “naturally” about the shoulders. It also cost three digits and took half a morning to get the perm done. I couldn’t believe that I was paying to put in what I was ironing out two decades before. I looked like the Cowardly Lion spruced up to meet the Wizard, but I was in style.
In the 90’s, it was time to do something about my gray.  I refused to dye it so I frosted it blonde, thus “easing” into old age. Eventually I went from ash-brown to tortoise shell to totally blonde. Besides the expense, keeping up with it gave me as much gray as the gray itself.
In the 00’s, I went chocolate brown.  For once I looked good, but my hair grows very fast, faster than most folks, so I had to spend lots of money (again) every month to get my roots redone. When I skipped a month I looked like a skunk, white streaks running in straight lines wherever my hair parted.
I realized I had spent a lifetime looking like everyone else, forgetting that the true road to happiness is to be yourself.
In 2008, I sheared it all off, as close to the scalp as possible, and after fifty years of copying everyone else, I was dealing with my own hair
Old habits die hard, so sometimes I discuss coloring it with my stylist. She tells me that white-gray is the latest fad and clients of all ages come into the shop everyday willing to pay three digits to have their hair done like mine.  
Who knew? Lookee me.  I’m the latest fad.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Funny Girl



When someone compliments me on a peculiarity, I don’t know how to respond.  I suddenly become self-conscious and my mannerism becomes an affectation.
Someone will compliment my laugh.  They’ll used words like sexy, bawdy, and brazen (Really? Oh, go on!), and vanity takes over.  My sexy becomes a snort, my bawdy chuckle a toothy bray, and my brazen come-on morphs into something creepy and unintentional.
I am no better off when someone calls attention to the way I walk.  I’ve been told I have a self-assured gait, a sensuous samba, and a feminine air when I move. (Well, goodness me!) This usually goes straight to my already inflated ego, and I lose all semblance of “graceful” and “alluring.” I gambol ostrich-like, all hips and haunches.  I mince, teetering and stumbling like my shoes pinch, and worse yet, I amble side to side like a mama ape foraging in the jungle.
None of my peculiarities are intentional, honest.  They are just a product of who I am, so when someone asks me to be funny, I go blank.  I start babbling and my aphasia kicks in. 
I feel like a sham, unworthy of any compliment.  I feel I should do something so as to deserve the compliment (and not lose the few people who like me).
It all boils down to this – my confession:  I am not intentionally trying to be “funny ha ha.”  I do not know why I laugh or walk or speak the way I do.  The nuns in elementary school tried their best to tame my goofy laugh.  My mom gave up correcting my “wiggle and strut,” and half the time I say what pops into my head before considering the consequences.
The truth is I have always just been plain “funny odd.” I have never truly fit in anywhere, so I stopped trying.  It is just me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Five Best Books on the Craft of Writing for 2012



Since there is a big difference between writing a story and crafting a story, I purchased several books on the subject in 2012, but these were the five I kept near me when I wrote. I refer to them often and wanted to share them with you.

The Art of Styling Sentences, 4th Edition, by Ann Longknife, Ph.D., and K. D. Sullivan.
This is a sophisticated workbook for writers who want to master the twenty basic sentence patterns (and the punctuation that accomplishes each). I can write a sentence well, but I wanted to improve my knowledge on craft. 

A Dash of Style: the Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman.
This book dedicates individual chapters on the many varied ways to use: the period, the comma, the semicolon, the colon, the dash, the parentheses, quotation marks, the question mark, the exclamation mark, the use of italics, ellipsis, and the hyphen.  Not only is it a great reference, but it offers some new creative approaches.

Toxic Feedback:  Helping Writers Survive and Thrive by Joni B. Cole.
This is a great book on how to critique work so that it encourages writers to improve their craft; it emphasizes critiquing versus criticizing another person’s work. In the process, the one offering the critique also perfects his/her own work.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.
This inspirational book discusses the difference between successful, published writers and those who wish to be writers - procrastination, fear, lack of commitment, etc., and what to do about it.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.
My favorite of all five, this book actually offers a “checklist” that refines the work of any writer. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Grandma’s Dining Table




Twenty five years ago my first husband and I bought a new home with four bedrooms and three baths, but my favorite part of the house was the enormous room you walked into from the front door. It had no dividing wall but the design was to use half of it as a formal living and the other half as a formal dining.
From the beginning I decided to make it into one huge dining room that would catch the eye when everyone walked in through the front door of my home.  
My three children were very young, but I envisioned them grown and married. We counted five at the time, but one day we would grow to eight, maybe more if we factored in grandchildren, so I bought a table that sat a family of twelve.  My husband thought it silly to look that far ahead and convinced me to buy only ten chairs.
The room looked magnificent – the long, majestic table, the ten chairs, the buffet, a couple of real ficus, and a few other nice pieces of furniture – I was pleased.
The table lasted longer than the marriage, and it has gone with me to every house since then. There were homes where it didn’t fit and times when it would be more economical to just get rid of it, but I refused to surrender my dream of family.
It has been used for homework by two generations and survived an unfortunate homework accident long ago.  Every time I change the tablecloth, I run my hand over the scar and smile at the memory.  
My grandsons use it in their play, hiding underneath it by lying on the chairs or pretending it is a cave. They help me set the table and hunt throughout the house to find extra chairs. I love that the chairs don’t match.
It has served many holiday and birthday meals and has witnessed a lot of laughter and heartwarming conversation. That table embraces my hopes and dreams.
This Christmas, it will sit fifteen people.  Fifteen of my most favorite people. We’ll sit five, elbow to elbow on each long side, and two at each end.  The baby will be in his new high chair, banging on the tray with a spoon or a rattle.
Four others will be too far away to join us, and one will be in heaven watching down, but if they were here, we would just put the kitchen trestle table to use.  It can sit another eight.  The more family, the merrier.   All are welcome at my dining table. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hit and Run, Misdemeanor



I live off a state highway, not on some meandering country road but on a busy five-lane free-for-all. Six days a week, paper thin econo cars play chicken with semi trucks carrying full capacity loads.  Commuters late for work and hot doggers in their show room, cowboy trucks barrel by, unaffected by the rules of courtesy or the laws of the state of Texas.
HoneyBunch says it wasn’t always like this.  When he first bought this property back in the 80’s, he could count the total traffic that passed in one day on both hands.  To see the traffic slow like that nowadays, I’d have to get up around 3:00 AM on a Sunday morning.
We witness several speeding tickets a day, one fatality a week, and two Hit and Run, Misdemeanors a year.  Luckily, those hit and runs only take out mailboxes.  Drivers will veer off the road or lose control of their vehicles and our mailboxes end up in the property next door.  All we will find the next morning are a bent post (or what’s left of it), tire marks, and our mailboxes and their contents socializing with cornstalks or cotton plants. The perps who caused the mess never stick around.
Because of all this, I am extremely careful when retrieving the daily mail.  I stay off the shoulder and wait in the grass along our property line until I see my chance, then I sprint out like a pit crew mechanic at the Indy 500.  There’s always some clown in a truck who finds it funny to honk at me as I hurry to get back onto safety.
I was coming home one evening at dusk and had to turn across the traffic onto my drive.  I was in the middle turning lane waiting for the thick flow of cars and trucks to thin out, when a young man in a white truck grew impatient.  He decided to pass everyone and charged up the middle lane towards me. Instead of stopping and merging back onto his side of the road when he saw me, he sped up.  He was bound and determined to pass everyone up, no matter the cost.
I braced myself for the high speed head-on collision.  The traffic slowed, horrified at what they were about to witness.  The punk took advantage of this and veered back on to his side of the road, barely missing the front left corner of my Jeep’s hood.  My car rocked from the gale force he created.
We were all so close, the two drivers in the front cars in the two lanes (a woman and a man), the young hoodlum, and I, that we saw each other clearly.  Except for the smirk on the hotshot’s face, we all looked like characters in an Edward Munch painting, our eyes bugged out and our mouths dropped open.
The traffic moved on, but it took me a while to find the strength to tootle up my drive.  I hope that young man got to his destination with time to spare because he took several years off my life that day.
Yup, I live on a state highway.  It was once a meandering, peaceful country road.  It now resembles the streets of Le Mans during racing season. Like everything else in our lives, we are all in one big hurry to get somewhere. No time to slow down; no time to stop and render aid. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Inexpensive Christmas Giving


My grown kids have asked that we come up with a less expensive Christmas this year.  Could we exchange names and thereby cut down on spending?
I totally agree. This past year’s events reminded us all that family is more important than anything else.  Things can be replaced; time with family can’t.
The couples in our extended family will exchange names with each other, and the kids (siblings and cousins) will exchange names.  We are to keep it all secret (we’ll see how long that lasts) until we open presents.  We are placing a spending cap on the gifts as well.
The individual families may give to each other, but everyone has been asked not to give outside their own household. This way others will not feel obligated to reciprocate.
I am proud of them because I have always objected to the commercialism and greed that accompanies this season.  Christmas is about family and not about trying to outdo each other or going into debt. I like what this teaches the children and grandchildren.  

I am looking for suggestions, but here are some of my favorite inexpensive gift-giving ideas:
1.    A sock exchange.  I used to belong to a group of ladies who gathered every year to swap Christmas socks.  We each bought a pair of Christmas socks to give away at a Christmas party.  We gathered at one house with our socks gaily wrapped in a gift bag.  We also brought a party dish to share.  We’d place the bags by the front door and wait for everyone to get there, then we’d pick out one bag, put on our new socks, and walk about all night in our Christmas footsies.  Our annual group picture was not of our faces, but of our stockinged feet.
2.    This exchange idea could also be done with a pair of regular winter socks, funny t-shirts, Christmas ornaments, or home baked cookies.  This can probably be upscaled to include inexpensive bottles of wine, movie tickets, or homemade theme baskets, but I like the idea of keeping it inexpensive. Anyone can spend money; it takes genius to give a great inexpensive gift.
3.    White Elephant exchange. A white elephant gift is an item that someone gave you that you might be able to regift to someone who will appreciate it more. You can only pray you don’t end up taking it home again. You decide beforehand in what order people, one by one, will chose a gift, how many times the gift may be “stolen,” and how many times a person can have something “stolen” from them. You need a minimum of six people to play this well. Our writing group, for example, exchanges books we don’t want at our Christmas White Elephant, while the others go home ecstatic over their new “finds.” 

Teaching children the selflessness and joy of giving isn’t easy.  To make it a true gift that comes from them they have to be the ones invested in the process: earning or saving the money, planning and searching for an appropriate gift, and keeping it secret since the attention should not be focused on them but on the other person.  What better way to teach them that the love and effort that goes into the present is more valuable than a gift purchased with one swipe of Mommy’s credit card?
Lofty ideals? I will let you know how it goes.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Work in Progress


I write for a living though I’ve yet to make any money at it.  You see, I could not live without writing.  It is as much a part of my existence as breathing and eating.  That’s not to say I don’t want to one day get paid for my writing.  I’m just not there yet; I’m still learning the craft.
I finished my first manuscript four years ago, and I immediately sent a query to a literary agency and to the editor of a small publishing house.  The agency answered first requesting the full manuscript.  I sent it within two weeks, but it only took them two days to send back a rejection.  It came accompanied with six pages of revisions and the manuscript dripping in editing marks. Ouch.
Next the editor from the publishing house requested the same manuscript but I just packaged it all up into a folder and filed it away. What the literary agency suggested made sense. It stung.  It was painful.  But it was correct. I knew I had a good idea; I just didn’t know enough about the craft to do it justice.
I soldiered on.
I finished and polished two children’s stories next and entered them into a well-known, national writing contest. Several writer friends warned me that very few ever placed in that contest and I was in for more disappointment.
I was getting good at growing a thick skin, so while I waited for that rejection, I started on a romance novel. 
I felt like a floundering college freshman, I couldn’t decide on a major. What kind of writer did I want to become?  Fiction? Children’s lit? Romance? There is so much to learn about the craft of writing well.
It took me twenty months to write the romance novel.  My protagonist begged for mercy since she was pregnant the entire time. Not satisfied with the end result, I packaged this one also, filed it, and moved on to my next project.
In the meantime, my two children’s stories placed in the top ten percent of the nationwide contest.  I looked at those again and wondered if I should not pitch them to editors.  Instead I ended up drawn to my first manuscript.  Maybe I could I read it this time (and the list of revisions) without wincing and crying?
It was time to get serious about being an author. 
I envy writers born with words that flow onto the page.  I have to pry mine off my fingertips like those dried flakes of skin you make with Elmer’s Glue. Half the time they disintegrate into nothing.
I have lots of ideas for future projects, but I cannot continue creating manuscripts and not seeing them all the way through the publishing process.
There’s a big difference between being a writer and being a published author.
One day (I hope it is not posthumously), you will see my work in print.  By that I mean published traditionally.  I want to hold a copy of my work in my hands and flip through its bound pages.  I want to open my email and find that a check has been deposited into my bank account because of it.
Then I will know what it means to say, I write for a living.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Ten Commandments of What I Will Not Eat



I may not land a cooking show on TV, but I have been to the mountaintop (okay maybe it was just a med clinic) and that should give me some cred. I have been eating since birth which makes me an expert.I have suffered from lactose intolerance all my life, so my body can tell from one smell, one bite, or one look whether a food will agree with me or not.
The following are the ten foods I avoid.  You have been warned.
1.    Nothing alive, nothing of the insect family, and nothing related to octopuses or frogs can skitter, slide, or skip onto my plate.
2.    I will not be pressured into eating processed meats (i.e., bologna) or pressed meats (i.e., Spam).
3.    Anything that once looked at me, pulsated, undulated, or strained internal body fluids in a past life can just pass on by.
4.    Without a proper and polite introduction, I refuse to gnaw on the feet or hooves, ears, necks, or tails of animals; and I don’t care if they are  disguised with clever names like “calf fries” or “mountain oysters,” I am not that kind of girl, thank you.  
5.    If it refuses to stand still and be chewed – squid, boiled okra, the “meat” in menudo – I refuse to eat it.   
6.    I will not eat anything deceptively packaged and meant to lure the unsuspecting or the innocent - licorice is a faux candy; real candy does not taste like that.
7.    Anything hotter than 100 on the Scoville Scale wasn’t meant as food consumption.  It was meant to peel paint off walls, thank you.  
8.    Gluttony is already a major sin, so a supersized anything counts as a double sin.  
9.    Thou shall not call all non-poisonous weeds full of vitamins a “vegetable.” Stop selling Kale in the produce aisle. It should be outside with the gardening supplies.
10. International flights to and from China are in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and should be banned from serving “the pork noodle” dish to innocent, unsuspecting tourists. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

LadyBoomer


I called family and apologized in advance for disgracing the Martinez name and honor.  I begged my best friends to stand by me as I prepared to publicly humiliate myself.
The weekly newspaper hit the neighborhood Thursday morning as I prepared to leave town for the weekend – not because of the column I had just written but because I was on my way to a teacher’s conference in Dallas.
I opened my copy and saw her – LadyBoomer – in her place in the centerfold of the small community paper, every word as I had written it. It was up to the readership to decide if I was a writer or not.
*  *  *  * 
Three months before (December 2001) I had just survived a divorce that had taken five months to finalize.  I was ready to forge a new future when I opened my weekly Herald and saw an ad looking for an op-ed/personal column writer.  All I had to do was dust off my resume, create a column voice, and submit three, 250-word samples – all in one week’s time. 
What did I have to offer?  I was a newly single, fifty-something woman with an empty nest, facing the new millennium with an even emptier pocketbook – and I loved to write.  There it was:  I was a lady, a boomer, and single. Surely, there must be others in my situation.   Maybe we could commiserate and laugh at ourselves while we did it.
I submitted everything well within the time limit and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Every week I opened the paper and nothing. 
I came home from work one day in late February to a phone message from the paper’s editor.    My hand shook as I returned his call.  The response for the job had been overwhelming and it took a while to read and choose the top four applicants.  I had been chosen among three others.  
The editorial board had decided to let the readership choose the winner.  They would print one entry every Thursday throughout the months of March, April, and May, and the column to get the biggest response would go weekly in June.  Was I in?
My confidence was a low as the pay, but I figured I would get some experience from all this.  I was asked to beef up my three columns (up to 450-550 words), and resubmit before the last Thursday of each month.  (I worried since the assignment wasn’t alphabetical and I was last in the rotation, I might be the weakest writer.)
The first column played with the author’s last name and how people always worried over how to pronounce it. I read it and got nervous.  It was so “cute.”
The next Thursday we read about junk mail and I started to worry.  This one was so “tame.”
The third writer told about a daily fight she had with her husband over their one Lazy Boy chair.  I lost interest halfway through except this was my competition.
I. Was. In. Big trouble.
This was when I started calling my family and apologizing. I begged my friends to not abandon me. I called my editor and asked if it was too late to change my name to a pseudonym.
He laughed at me and told me to leave it to the readers.
*   *   *   *  
I got home late on Sunday from the conference to find my answering machine flashing with messages from family and friends. I started my computer to find both email inboxes full of emails, all congratulating me.
The column on “Why I Joined the Gym” (because I was looking for a man my age, healthy enough to get his own evening snacks) was a hit. LadyBoomer received 643 emails that week.
PS:  LadyBoomer ran from March 2002 until I retired her in October 2005. She was a grand old gal. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ten Things a Lady Should Never Admit

Disclaimer:  People and events mentioned below are fictitious and do not resemble anyone living, dead, or writing this blog.
1.     A lady never admits to the size on the tag of her dress unless it is a one-digit number and does not include the letter “X.”
2.    Her relationship with the bathroom scale is sacrosanct and will NOT be discussed or debated with anyone.
3.    A lady’s hair color is her “true” hair color and should not be disputed.  She paid for it; it’s her true color. Get it? Good.
4.    It is not polite to ask a lady who really dragged who first down the church aisle. All anyone needs to know is that it was love at first sight and a marriage proposal quickly ensued.
5.    A lady never admits to impetuous or unwise purchases.  Large wraps are making a comeback and can accentuate too-tight or too-short dresses dramatically.  Likewise, really tall strappy heels make quite a statement worn with the right dress, besides why else did God create podiatrists?
6.    A lady has no idea what the commotion is about when the said lemon meringue pie, the dozen of glazed doughnuts, or the gallon of Blue Bell comes up missing from the kitchen. She has no idea whatsoever.  Go bother someone else.
7.    A lady never snores, laughs like Mr. Ed, or chews like a camel.  A lady does not have bodily emissions of any kind, and anyone who says so is rude and a bore. Is. That. Clear?
8.    She doesn’t know why there is a whole shelf of depilatories in the medicine cabinet.  That stuff is for removing stray hairs and chin whiskers, things that would not dare grow willy-nilly on a lady’s face.
9.    Though there is reason for paparazzi to lurk in the bushes surrounding her house, a lady is never seen unclothed (especially in daylight. Sorry, Kate.).  She prefers slimming black dresses and stunning vertical stripes.
10. A lady never admits that briefs that once hugged her curves but now cigar roll down her tummy or refuse to hike over her derrière have anything to do with her diet or exercise regimen. The stingy manufacturers are at fault; they skimp on material nowadays.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Finding My Muse


1)    Because my muse has a wicked sense of humor and visits me at odd times and in inconvenient places, I have learned to record inspirations/ideas immediately before I forget them or they dissolve into nothing.
I carry small notebooks, own a digital recorder, and have been known to text messages home. I will scribble on anything – old napkins I find in my glove compartment or old receipts. I even pop out of bed in the middle of the night to jot things on sticky pads.
2)   Calendars are great places to find topics. I use important dates, seasons, and upcoming holidays to plan blog posts. I can also go back into my work calendar to refresh my memory about meetings, conferences, or books I have read that might be worth sharing with others.  
3)   I will sit with a good cup of coffee, pen and paper ready, and read the newspaper searching for topics, interesting characters, or modern trends.  News channels and other newsfeeds are just as good.  
4)   I love to read the TV and movie guides for titles and descriptions.  Not only are they great for a laugh, but they make great writing prompts.  
5)   I try to use my time driving around the city studying other drivers, billboards, road signs, and the flora and fauna. I am always alert looking for anything that might activate my muse.   
6)   I love to study people and have been known to follow strangers around Target just because of the way they are dressed, something they said, or because they look just like that new character I have been having trouble fleshing out in my latest work in progress.  I call it character study, but HoneyBunch says it’s called stalking and it’s illegal in Texas.
7)   I am addicted to crossword puzzles and have learned a lot of useful (and useless) information and vocabulary. Some of it works its way into my writing. (I wonder if Neve Campbell knows she is more well known in the crossword-puzzle world than she is in Hollywood?)
8)   I read an immense amount both for recreation and to keep up with the craft of writing, and I make it a practice to use some of the wordsmithery and punctuation prowess in my own writing.
9)   I listen to music, not only when I am working on mood and need help creating tone, but also to elicit a memory or a feeling.   
10)  And last but not least, I love to journal and have done so for the majority of my life.  Besides all the emotional baloney I dump in there (and hope to burn before I die and my kids read it), it sometimes helps me come up with some pretty good topics. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Farewell to Summer



My favorite season has always been summer.  If you have been to my part of the world (south Texas), you would understand why. No matter how much everyone romanticizes all the other seasons, for me the only one worth mentioning is summer.
In the fall, everything turns gray and brown and stays that way for nearly eight months, none of those beautiful russets and crimsons one sees in other parts of the United States. 
Winters are more of the same except our Winter Wonderland is not snowdrifts and crystalline icicles.  It is bitter cold weather and clay mud. 
Unlike all the gobbledygook put out by Disney or the Lifetime Channel, we spend the majority of our spring waiting for the first Bluebonnet to bloom, and that usually doesn’t happen until sometime in May.
Summer is the only time we get to enjoy a storybook season.  We finally get to play with the other colors in the Crayola box.  For a brief period in time, our trees leaf, our flowers burst, our fruits and vegetables flourish.  
Soon though, long before summer ends on our calendars, everything has been harvested and all that remains are sad stalks and bare fields. The last of the greenery is hanging on for dear life, dying for a drink of water and a respite from the heat.
And it is time again to say farewell to summer - back again to another eight months of gray and brown nothing.  


Monday, September 10, 2012

September 11th – In Retrospect


Even after thirty years in a dysfunctional relationship, I missed being married.

I was sad, lonely, and lost.

My kids were all grown and gone, and even the family dog had died.

I was in the middle of teaching a poetry lesson to a group of high school juniors when the teacher next door came running into my classroom, yelling for me to turn on my TV.  A plane had just crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.

Our country was being attacked by terrorists.

For the rest of the school day the whole school, the whole nation, watched as all hell broke loose on our safe, complacent world.  It was Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Purgatory all rolled into one.

I don’t remember getting home, but I do remember assuring my three kids (all in their early twenties back then) that if worse came to worst, we would all gather at my house, we would all live under one roof, and we would all look out for and protect each other.

I remember checking on the two useless “rifles” we kept in the back closet and registering the kind of ammo I needed to go out and buy.

I called my estranged husband (our divorce would not become final for another three months) and asked him to come home and help me comfort and protect our kids, but he told me I was more than capable of taking care of them and myself.  He was where he needed to be.

If it’s true that we acquire wisdom with age, I learned that day that when the moment of greatest need presents itself in your life, you will learn the true heft of your character and of those around you.  You will clearly see what is important and what isn’t, who you love and to what extent you will go to protect them, and how determined and unselfish you truly are. 

On September 11th, I sing the praises of the heroes who died that day.  They showed us how heroes live and how heroes die.   

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grandpa HoneyBunch


When my kids were little we would make a big deal of Grandparents’ Day.  We planned our weekend visiting and delivering tokens of our love and appreciation to the grandparents - small plants or flowers for the grandmoms and great-grandmothers, cards and a candy bar for the grandfathers. 

Only one on that list is still with us.  

I became a grandma in 2001; HB acquired the prestigious title of grandpa when he married me in 2006.  Since then we have “titled” him seven more times.

He is tickled pink (but mostly blue since seven of the eight are boys) and takes the title of Grandpa HoneyBunch seriously.

He’s built furniture, toys, and playscapes.  He’s repaired hundreds of store-bought items not meant for the rambunctiousness of healthy and curious hands. He’s hiked, fished, and roller skated.  He has cheered at t-ball, baseball, and soccer games.  He’s dried tears, fixed boo boo’s, and given advice. 

Nothing makes me smile more than to watch him go about his chores shadowed by a little man, listen to him hold a serious conversation with a preschooler, or have him drop whatever he is doing because one of the grandkids needs him.

They think he is “cool,” but then he saves baby birds, eight-foot long snake skins, or the snake itself to show them “just in case they drop by.” All I have going in my favor is an educational DVD or book, a home cooked meal, or ice cream.  

He downplays his grandfatherhoodness, saying he is just their step-grandpa, but I assure him his unselfish love, his limitless sacrifice, and his fatherly example have earned him the use of the full-fledged title. Happy Grandparents’ Day, HoneyBunch.

 
Grandparents’ Day is always the first Sunday after Labor Day, so this year we celebrate it on September 9th, 2012.      

Monday, August 27, 2012

Retirement

 

For years I raced top speed uphill with a full load on my back.  Some days I careened downhill with no brakes or power steering.

And I did it gladly. I liked my job and I relished the responsibility.

Demands and obligations ruled my sleep, my diet, and my personal life.  Alarm clocks, deadlines, and pressure sucked away at my health and my humanity. 

I didn’t need a doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist to hand me a diagnosis.  I gained weight.  I suffered anxiety attacks.  I spent the little precious time I’ve been allotted in this world with people who only wanted what I could do for them.

I stopped enjoying my profession. I had given all I could. I wanted something in return for a change.

I worked top speed until the end, honoring my responsibilities.  I held the line until I handed it to my replacement. I looked out for the very people who would not remember who I was after I was gone.  

Then I walked away and refused to look back.

I kept my old life in boxes. My wardrobe hung in the closet.  Every year for the last four, those things become less and less.

One day all that will be gone.
 
           It took me a while to discover where I was headed. For more than half my life I was someone else.  I have had to learn to trust this new me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Credo


One of my children adamantly states there is no God.  When a person dies there is no afterlife.  The person just ceases to exist.

Nothing I say or do can change his mind, but then nothing he says or does changes mine.  The basic difference between us is “belief.”

I see a flower and I believe that something greater than “chance” created such complexity.  I hold a baby in my arms and attribute that miracle to more than evolutionary ontology.

I’ve seen ugly in my life, so I know evil exists.  If so, then why can’t good also be a palpable existence among us?

Because I need hope in my life, I choose to believe. 

When reality hits me square on the head, I need the salve of hope to heal and keep on going.  I may not understand sadness or the ugly around me, but I do understand goodness.  I've seen it - a better day always waits ahead.

I refuse to believe that I won’t smile again or love again.  No one can convince me that I was better off not knowing or loving someone to avoid the pain when they are taken from me.

     I need hope in my life; I choose to believe.

I tell my son that only one of us will be surprised that there was “life” after death. If all I did was live a hopeful life and it ended here, so what? According to him, I won’t exist to continue the argument, but when he wakes up on the other side though, I will be standing there, shaking my finger at him, telling him, “I told you so.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Losing a Child

I lost a grandson a few weeks ago.  His death was caused by a freak household accident that claimed his life within hours.  No one had time to do more than react and pray for the best.

For once in my life I had no words of wisdom for my daughter, no remedy or solution that would make everything better.  I stood by while she heard the words no parent ever wants to hear – her child, her baby, was not responding to everything the trauma medical team was  frantically trying. 

Her twenty-two-month-old child was dying.

One moment her fearless little boy was bombing around the house playing and climbing on furniture, the next he was injured and quiet. What should have been a boo-boo made better with mommy kisses, ended up a fatality.

I try not to relive the horror of that night, but I struggle to sleep.  I wait until my eyes close from exhaustion and I wake a few hours later with a start.  Sadness and fear chase me in my dreams.

I do not dare imagine what goes through my daughter and my son-in-law’s dreams.  They were there.  They saw the baby’s injury a second after it happened.

I’ve lost weight, something that has eluded me for years even though I faithfully follow a diet and exercise at every opportunity.  I am hungry but after a few bites I cannot force myself to eat any more.  What I do ingest does not stay for long.    

I’ve watched my daughter leave behind a full plate of food on the table.

I know that the stages of grief are recursive, that right when you think you are progressing well onto the next stage you fall back onto the first step all over again. There must be a different set of rules of recovery when one loses a child.  Maybe there isn’t any. The universe as you know it has been turned upside down.

Death should come after one has lead a long, full life.  Death should be top-down and not robbing us of babies who have yet learned to create full sentences, tie their shoes, or use the potty like a big boy.

I believe in a good God and in an afterlife.  That is some comfort, but it does not assuage the huge loss and the extreme regret we all feel.  My daughter’s house is full of his and his three-and-a-half-year-old brother’s toys.  His sister and brothers call out his name in play, and his parents set an extra plate at the dinner table before remembering there is one less in the house.   

Our guilt is blanketed in “what ifs” and “only ifs,” but these do not change what happened – one fearless little boy left us all stunned in disbelief, frozen in our pain, cowering at the tragedy we all witnessed.