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The Tell-tale Dish Towel (My Homage to E.A. Poe)

True! – guilty —very, very guilty I am, but it was unintentional.  The act has made me aware of what I have done.  I know everything there is to know about heaven and hell, so I always intended to return the object, so – hearken! – and observe as I calmly tell you the whole story of how I came to steal the red dish towel from the church fellowship hall.
It is impossible to say when the idea first entered my brain; but once conceived, I made up my mind. I had no choice.  I had to take it and thus mop up the serving table of the mess I had caused.
You fancy me a thief, but thieves do not intend to return the objects they purloin. Stealing the dish towel was unintentional.  Object there is none.  I own dozens of dish towels of my own. Passion there is none. I hold no grudge or malice toward its owner. 
I think it was the spill!  The pooling spill that made me reach for the towel.  I had tried a handful of paper napkins but they were useless in my efforts to stay the spreading wave of mull…

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 at the time, 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…

Countdown to Christmas

If you didn’t buy it, wrap it, or bake it by now, stop.  Believe me, your Christmas will not be ruined, not unless you put more emphasis on calories and commercialism than on the true meaning of the holiday.
What is it, you ask?
Well, I have it on good authority that it will come without ribbons.  It will come without tags.  It will come without packages, boxes or bags. Christmas doesn’t come from a store; Christmas is a little bit more.
What is this little bit more?
Well, it may have something to do with a little bitty baby born in a stable many, many years ago.  He delighted his humble parents and astounded anyone who met him soon after his birth. This man had such a profound effect on the history of mankind that we read about him and study about him even today, two thousand years later, whether we are Christian or not.  
What we celebrate at Christmas is something so valuable that we sometimes take it for granted, and those who do not have it envy us – family, friends, and fellowship …

Grace Not Greed

I wrote this for a collection of Christmas devotionals in 2011.It is still appropriate for the times at Christmas in 2013.
 “May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.”  Jude 1:2 (NSRV) The winter of 1991 found me in the middle of a messy divorce.  I struggled to pay a four-digit mortgage and to feed and clothe three growing adolescents on a teacher’s salary. On previous Christmases, our letters to Santa had been long and expensive lists of toys and electronics, but this year we would have to find a different way to “make merry.” I tried to explain our situation to the kids, but they stopped me mid-apology with an announcement of their own. “We don’t want anything for Christmas.” They explained they already had everything they needed – we had each other, a roof over our heads and a safe place at night, food to eat (even if it was way too many servings of boxed mac and cheese or ramen noodles), and they had me.  They knew I wasn’t going to abandon them. Grace replaced greed in our …

What I Want for Christmas

My two front teeth are in great shape. Thank you (especially to my dentist and her team), so what do I really want for Christmas? Everyone and everything dear to my hearth and home are doing well, so what could I possibly want or need? Well, for starters, I would like a firmer and more youthful body, one that does not wiggle when set in motion.  It would be wonderful to be the envy of all the ladies in my Cardio Dance class when I walk in dressed in my skin tight workout clothes and my bust, belly, and butt amaze everyone.  A thinner waist would also be appreciated.  Thank you in advance. Two, I would like to win the lottery, not the little one of just a couple of million dollars but the big honker one with the dozens of zeroes behind it.  I realize I actually have to buy a ticket, so I would like to be the envy of all when they interview me for the six o’clock news (I would insist on a long shot so I can show off my gorgeous new firm body) and I mention that I bought ONE ticket on the…

Creating Family Traditions

My Chinese daughter-in-law is excited about her first American Christmas.  All the preparations and decorations she sees on TV and in the stores remind her of the month-long celebrations of her own country and she is eager to join in on the fun of the season.
Chinese culture is big on the giving of gifts.  One can never visit a home without giving a small token (most often food) to the host or hostess.  Gifts preclude the asking of a favor and thank you gifts follow after a kindness is given. If two people exchange gifts and one outdoes the other, it becomes a competition and is usually followed by a second gift of greater value.
She is mesmerized by all the sales and ads, but I warned her not to let it lure her into buying something extravagant. I advised her not to let her old custom rule her American Christmas. The giving of Christmas gifts does not have to be expensive. It is always better to give something from the heart. 
My husband’s family is Czech, so along with the traditional…

Daddy’s Favorite

On December 24th, my dad would have turned 92, but he died two weeks after he turned 84. He never met any of my wild, rambunctious extended family – all my children’s spouses, seven of my eight grandchildren, or my dear husband, but if he had he would have been deliriously happy for me. 
Family meant everything to my dad.
He loved his siblings, those alive and dead, and he adored his parents, speaking of them with the greatest of respect, but we, his own family, he put above everyone and anything else.  
We were lucky to have such a good man as our father. Not everyone can say that.
Oh, he was strict and stubborn and opinionated.  He was Old World old-fashioned. Letting his daughters out into the modern world frightened him and we gave him plenty of reason to worry, but there was never any doubt how much we loved each other.
He had this wonderful knack of treating us like ladies (Ladylike traits were not valued in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It was the era of Free Love and the start of…

My Life Is a Lifetime Movie

Happy Seventh Anniversary, HoneyBunch. Being married to you is the easiest, most fun, and most magical time of my life.  I feel as if we have always belonged to each other; the forty-five combined years we spent with others fade into nothing when we are together.  I never knew what being truly in love was like until I married you. Baby, you complete me. You are my clone; my soul mate. Scary thought, but true. The person who was just a friend is . . . suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with. You know me better than I know myself.  I, of course, am the prettier one. It was the million tiny little things that when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together.  It is like . . . magic.  In the movie of our lives, you get to play Tom Hanks and I get to play Meg Ryan. I’m your density.  You know how to make laugh, how to make me happy, and how to encourage me. I am the only one who gets (and appreciates) your jokes.  I am here to care for you and make …

On November 22, 1963

Sister Mary Gisela was admonishing the eighth grade choir for not projecting loud enough when the Mother Superior of our Catholic school ran in and whispered something into her ear before running out again.
Sr. Gisela looked horrified, then she announced that our President had been shot.  We needed to kneel and pray for his recovery – now! 
She led us in prayer as we wrapped our minds around the incredulity that people existed in this world who would dare shoot a President.  
We remembered the celebration of the day before when President Kennedy had visited our city and the love we all felt for our charismatic, Catholic president.
Soon after, Mother Superior walked in again and we listened as she addressed us.  Our President was dead, killed by an assassin’s bullets. 
School was being called off and our parents were coming for us. 
I was too numb to cry. I was thirteen.  I didn't understand that such ugliness could exist in the world.  Not then.

Christmas Gift Exchanges

Last year, my three grown up kids asked if they could swap names and do a Christmas gift exchange.It was so successful that they decided to it again this year. We number fifteen now in our “immediate” family and that becomes a lot of individual Christmas presents to buy.  We all have blended families so my kids and I have other “immediate” family circles on our Christmas list. Believe me; the grandkids have done the math, and they may wish we hadn’t.  They are kids, after all, and they love getting stuff. They may not like what their parents decided, but I applaud their solution. As grandparents, HoneyBunch and I are not included in the name swap, but I have claimed myself the grandmother who always buys the grands a set of pajamas at Christmas.  I might throw in a snuggly or a book, but I stay away from anything more expensive or complicated. I’ll leave that for Santa (their parents or the other grandparents) to buy.  My present may not get oohs and aahs, but I want them to know I care…

Someday

When I told HoneyBunch that I am fast running out of time, he scolded me and called it nonsense.  He said if I take care of myself, I should live well into my nineties in good health. That is exactly my point – the road ahead is much shorter than the road I leave behind. HoneyBunch didn’t want to hear any more of my morbid thoughts, but then he is five years younger and is still in his fifties. He holds on to his youth as prudishly as a heroine holds on to her virginity in a Jane Austen novel. If I mention his graying hair or his bushy, grandpa eyebrows, he takes offense. His family putters well into their eighties; mine lives long too, but we sputter and backfire, requiring quite a few expensive tune ups and engine overhauls all the way. Our heredity and genetics differ, and I am glad for his sake.  I do not wish him the ailments that come with age for so many of us. I tried again to share with him my observation that my “someday” list is limited by the number of days left in my life…

No Pets, Thank You!

I respect any couple (or single person) who decides to be childless.Hey, breeding is not something one should do without serious study.It is quite a commitment. I feel the same way about acquiring a pet.  Don’t get me wrong, I love most of God’s creatures, except for those that might bite or sting me.  Okay, maybe also squishy and ugly things do not make my list. I am not immune to cute.  I “share” forward plenty of Facebook pictures of cute puppies and kitties, but I have lived long enough to know that the shelf life of cute is short, and the responsibility of having a pet is long. Cute wears off when the puppy grows up and digs up the landscaping in the back yard. Cute is not how I would describe a kitty who claws and scratches the few nice things you own. There is nothing cute about poop or piss or hairballs. Pets are expensive.  They have to be fed, taken to the vet, groomed, cleaned up after. You cannot go off on holiday without finding a sitter for Pooch or Tiger.  A visit to the…

Scaredy Cat

I have a TV service with over 500 options which includes dozens of movie channels that run nothing but for twenty-four hours a day. You think with the money I pay for this service and the abundance of offerings there would be more of a selection every evening that would keep me happy, especially during the month of October.  For some reason whoever schedules these stations thinks they are the only ones who came up with the ingenious idea of running nothing but horror movies for the whole month of October. Vampires, zombies, and angry boogie men vie with alien creatures and serial killers over tasty human beings. The “family” channels feature psycho-thrillers with demented men, women, and children who consider family and the unsuspecting traveler as easy prey and plan their gory deaths.   Even the kid-friendly channels bury us with cartoon versions of the same. Call me a scaredy cat, but I just cannot watch scary movies. I cannot stomach anything that literally eats away at my imaginat…

Using the Johari Window to Create Fictional Characters

Though I love a good story, I am drawn to fiction with strong, likeable characters. How does a writer accomplish this? There are hundreds of books on characterization, and I have studied quite a few excellent ones, but I have discovered an answer in the most unlikely place – the science of cognitive psychology.  I use a simple heuristic that was developed in 1955 to explain how a person presents himself and interacts with others. It is called the Johari window. It looks like this -


Each quadrant is called a window and it studies the human being from four different perspectives. How persons represent themselves to others is called the Open Window. It is how they dress, act, and react. This is how they want to be perceived. 

It sometimes differs from how others see them. In the Blind Window, the person is unaware that others might judge them differently than how they presented themselves. In the Hidden Window, they keep things to themselves they do not want others to know or that only ver…

Trading One Dream for Another

When I graduated from college in 1971, my dream was to teach for a year, maybe a year and half, in a local high school and save my money, then I would go get my doctorate in Spanish and teach in a college. I would travel during the summers to all the Spanish-speaking countries of the world and become world famous for my studies. I had a teaching assistant job offer good for two years at UT Austin and the promise of a Ford Fellowship. Everything was set in place. I just had to get through the next eighteen months. My mid-year teaching assignment was in a high school in the deep south side of the city.  I was to teach junior and senior Spanish and English.  Since the neighborhood was mostly Latino, so were the students. No problem, I thought.  I was from that neighborhood.  I was Latina.  It would be a piece of cake. These were kids about to graduate, so they didn’t give me much trouble.  My biggest problem was my age.  I was twenty-one and my students were ages 16-21, so I looked too y…

Creating Strong Fictional Characters

Character questionnaires ask inane questions - a character’s favorite color or what they have in their refrigerator. These questionnaires are superficial and cosmetic and do not create characters that walk off the page and into reader’s hearts.
Readers want to connect with the character’s inner workings. They want to empathize with the protagonist’s feelings.  What is their inner conflict? What are their fears?  What secrets does the main character keep so hidden that even they do not acknowledge their shameful existence?
In order to face whatever conflict the author throws at them in the story, they must be armed with more than their favorite color or the contents of their refrigerator.  
It is only when the author builds characters from the inside out that he can costume them with the kind of frippery found in questionnaires.  It is only then that the inanity of the questionnaire becomes integral to the story.
For example, a female protagonist neglected as a child by her alcoholic pa…

Blogless

For the last two and a half years I have written a Monday blog without fail.  This past week I struggled and struggled to find a subject to write about, so I considered the things I always obsess about. üGrowing old - I have nothing to say here worthy of mentioning (at least, nothing nice or kind.), so keep reading. üMy writing life. If I am having enough trouble coming up with a 250-450 word blog, what do you think I have to share about writing that is worth taking notes?   üBuying a new car. My efforts to replace the Red Bomber, aka Grandma’s Jeep have come to a standstill. I feel like I am divorcing a perfectly good spouse in an effort to replace it with a trophy wife. The old car is sturdy and dependable, low maintenance and still in good shape.  The new car would be expensive, showy, full of cosmetic baubles. I know from personal experience how the Jeep must feel. Remember, I was divorced twice before I met HoneyBunch. üMen – Maybe I could write about my “vast” experience with men b…

The ABC’s Spell Healthy

A - Almonds, Arugula B - Breakfast is very important. C – Calcium and Vitamin D daily intake D – Dinner, Diabetes, Dairy E – Exercise – choose something addictive and fun. F – Family activities, fish, fruits G – Gym workouts (videos are okay.) H – Healthy snacks – don’t ditch them; choose wisely, hydrate. I – Interactive video games that involve movement, jumping, standing J – Join a group to improve exercise, education, weight loss, or to make friends. K – Kiwi, kale – learn their many benefits. L – Lunch – measure, choose wisely. M – Measure your portions. Medicines, movement, meditation N – Naps, 8 hours of nightly sleep O – One slice of pizza is okay; fill your plate with salad. P – Portion control.  A kid’s meal is the size of a “real” adult portion. Q – Quinoa R – running (or biking or swimming or dancing) S – Spice your food to reduce salt intake. T – Tea has many soothing benefits. U – Utensils – measuring cups and spoons are your friend.  Put your fork down between bites. V – Vegetabl…

Alone

Alone won’t let you wear your fancy bracelet, the kind that has a latch and needs three hands to get it onto your wrist.  
Alone says no to that becoming dress, the one with the tight bodice that won’t give so you can scootch it up in back, and you can zip it all the way to the top.  
Alone thinks it’s a bad idea to bake your favorite cake recipe or that meatloaf you love to make with real mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole - unless you want to eat it all week long or freeze the remainder into a dozen plastic lunch containers.
Alone won’t listen to your joke or your story, and it gives useless advice on your latest wacky idea.   
Alone doesn’t care if you steal the covers, hide the remote, or lie about the bathroom scales.
Alone gladly gives up the second seat at the theatre or the symphony so you can use it for your purse and coat.
Alone lets you be the hero of your life’s story, wear the pants, be the boss of you. It gladly lets you swat at the spider, squash the water bug, and …

Our Song

Why is it when we are sad, every song we hear stabs at our heart, even commercials for fast food make us cry?  Yet when our heart is happy, we bop along, singing at full wail.
Music, like our sense of smell, elicits specific memories.
There are certain songs that I find downright annoying. I absolutely hate (and I mean hate, sorry) the theme songs Over the Rainbow, My Heart Will Go On, and Fame. Not only have they been overplayed, but I find my annoyance also stems from my dislike of their movies.  
I also find explicit modern music annoying and disgraceful.
You see, my father was a musician, so I grew up listening to entrancing rhythms and beautiful lyrics.  He played the Big Band music of the 40’s and the smooth ballads of Agustin Lara (the famous Mexican composer of over 700 songs), so I associate that music with my childhood.  
My teen years were wrapped in Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, and Three Dog Night, but as I had children of my own, they took charge of my musical tastes.  M…

Yellow Car, The Game

If necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is its grandmother.
I’m driving home from picking up two grandsons from school. They are both strapped into the back seat when the yelling starts. I hear a swat, then a howl followed by a bloodcurdling battle cry, and the scrimmage begins.
I’m merging onto a stretch of expressway that resembles a French braid and our three lives depend on my total concentration.
“Let’s play a game.” I shout over the battle of fists coming from the back seat of my Jeep.
They answer with another smack and another cry of pain.
“There can only be one winner; everyone else will belosers.” I singsong the word “losers” knowing that might divert their attention.
I merge left thanks to the kindness of a young man in a yellow car.
The older one asks over the screams of his younger brother, “What kind of game?”
“Let’s count trucks. We like trucks.” I try not to sound desperate.
“That’s no fun. That isn’t special.” There is a whine in his voice. He detests math in every…

Grandma’s Jeep

My oldest grandson was born one month before I bought my red Jeep Liberty, so all seven of my grands have never known me to drive anything else.
When I announced recently I was buying a new car, I was met with shocked looks, not just from the grandkids but from the rest of the family as well.
Will it be red? 
Will it be a Jeep?
More importantly, what was going to happen to it? I wasn’t going to trade it in, was I?
People get attached to houses, and so my family has become attached to Grandma’s Jeep.  It’s more than just some old car - it’s a symbol of Grandma (or Mom); it’s home; it’s a part of the family.  It has been my office, counseling and tutoring grandsons as I drive to and from school, soccer, or swimming lessons.  It has been my interrogation room where naughty boys have confessed their sins and received scolding’s and an earful of advice. It has been the stage for Grandma’s traveling acts of great feats, where out of boredom or desperation the kids and I have invented games, s…