Monday, December 29, 2014

Grief


You wake up in the morning and the day laughs at your pain. It is sunny and bright, cheerful and promising; everything opposite of how you feel.  
You count the days in minutes.  First a few seconds separate you from the person you loved, then the seconds melt into minutes and hurry into hours.  The minutes become days, weeks, and months.
You reach into a drawer, a closet, a cabinet and find you didn’t get rid of everything as well as you thought. Memories hide in the most unsuspecting and unforgiving places.  
You hear a voice and you turn, a smile on your face, ready to answer, forgetting for one second that it is not him or her.  
You think of a question, hear a joke, remember a story and you reach for the phone before you realize no one will answer at the other end.
A couple holds hands, a baby cries, you overhear a conversation, and you pray no one saw the naked look on your face before you walked away. 
If you could do it over, you would be more careful, more obedient, more diligent. You would treasure each minute, each day. You realize how much you miss what you had and how its absence affects your actions every day and your sleep every night.  
You regret words you said or didn’t, you miss all the moments you shared or didn’t, you wish you had stolen one more kiss, hug or smile. Unfinished business will forever stay unfinished.
You yell at anything and anyone – God, the loved one, the accident, the divorce, the disease. With the passing of time, you realize nothing assuages your pain.

For most of us the wounds heal.  They might leave a scar but they heal. Each in its own time. You learn to live with the wound that surrounds your heart, or that empty space will fill instead with good memories, with forgiveness, with acceptance. You can no more undo your grief than you can undo that they existed, that you once loved them, that they left their mark in your heart forever.   

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ditch the Divorce Tag


When do you stop being “divorced” and can start calling yourself “single” once again?
I don’t like the word “divorced;” it somehow attaches the ex-spouse to you like old gum on the bottom of your shoe, and I don’t think that is what you want. You legally ditched the ex, so being divorced should not dominate your introduction to others. 
If you never remarry again, doesn’t it condemn you for all eternity to say things like “Hi, I’m divorced.” to brand new acquaintances? This leads to questions like “Since when?”  And here you go again – dragging that old carcass into the preliminaries when you have more exciting things to discuss like politics, sports, your next dental appointment.     
Along with reclaiming my maiden name (and paying off the lawyers), I was newly single the moment I walked down the court steps and headed for the parking garage.  (Isn’t single the opposite of married?)
Being divorced is not a permanent condition.  Like the flu or a stomach virus, you survived and it’s over. You don’t go around saying, “Hi, I had a colonoscopy.” It was difficult, but move on. You might eventually get around to sharing this info one day, but not at the start of each new conversation.
Here’s something else that goes with that: Why is a person who has married more than once considered “remarried?” Unless you marry the same person again, shouldn’t you just be “married?”

It’s that sticky gum nuisance once again, messing up your Ferragamos.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dating Challenged


I stink at dating – always have.  I sputter.  I hyperventilate.  I fail miserably every time.

I blame a pathetically underdeveloped gene that got little use before I married in my early twenties, then atrophied, gathering dust and rust, until I became single again in my fifties.

 I decided to use this defect to my advantage when I needed to do some investigative reporting a few years back.  While on a newspaper writing assignment on Boomer-aged dating, I sacrificed my dignity and my vanity for the sake of the story (and I got several).

But this time I’ve decided I will “show you mine if you show me yours.”  I will swap dating horror stories with you, but you have to promise to play along.

The trick here is to tell about your worst date in 25 words or less.  You must keep it clean and you cannot name names. Our little contest will run only this week and before my next blog posting.  

Me first: 

I’m fourteen. My mom fixed me up.  He spent the evening licking his lips and leering at my chest.  I never let her forget it.  (Count them: 25 words)

Again:

I once dated six men, all at one time.  It was a Speed Date for 50-year-olds.  Let’s just say, some people don’t improve with age. (Twenty-five again.  Yeeha!)

These are two of my horror stories, one from each end of my life.

Here’s one more but it is not a horror story.  It is my happy ending:

We met online and decided to meet in person at a baseball game.  He proposed.  I panicked. He was right.  We married three months later.

Your turn. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Grace Not Greed
By Raquel Martina Martinez
“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 letters to Santa that year.
Our Nativity set dwarfed the centerpiece-sized Christmas tree.  Three small store bought presents lay next to a mound of homemade gifts, but the best present of all sat on the carpet next to me – my three wise children, smiles on their faces, drinking hot chocolate and singing carols. 
Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for the love and comfort of family.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Cheeto Dreams (Again)


The bag of Cheetos in the pantry sings its siren song.
There is no way to sneak a handful without it leaving guilty orange stains on your fingers, under your nails, and stuck to the inside valleys of your teeth.  You suck the evidence from your fingers, but first, since no one is looking, you pry the sticky mess from between your back molars and the inside of your cheek.
You know they are not good for you, but if powdered milk, powdered eggs, and powdered potatoes are allowed to exist, why not a corn puff covered in powdered cheddar cheese? Why not count it as part of your daily calcium intake?
You’ve tried the puffs, the balls, the X’s and the O’s.  They come in white cheddar, baked, natural, and flaming hot, but since they were first created in San Antonio in 1948, and you are proud of your heritage - you are a purist!
Only Crunchy Cheetos for you!
You follow a sacred ritual.  You inspect them, looking for those rare Cheetos that look like famous people (so you can sell them on eBay and get rich and famous), then you eat all the big ones first and save the small, broken bits for last.  
If you are in danger of being discovered, you skip the ritual and upend the bag, gobbling all the evidence in big mouthfuls before some goody-two-shoes (in a size four dress) comes along and saves you from yourself and your overactive imagination.
You hide the empty bag at the bottom of the trash can.  You scrub your hands and check your teeth; you make promises to yourself not to do that again.  No one will ever know your guilty secret, but wait!
Was that a bag of Oreos hiding behind the steel cut oatmeal?
Quick.  No one is looking. You need something sweet to offset all that sodium but be careful. There is no way to sneak an Oreo without it leaving its calling card on your teeth and announcing what you have done.   


Monday, December 1, 2014

No Room for Jesus


 “. . . and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. . . . and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:7 NIV

Every year we have to move furniture around to make room for the Christmas tree.  Things get shoved into a corner and sometimes end up on top of each other in the walk-in closet. After I put up all the Christmas decorations I am going to use, I have to temporarily hide the everyday stuff in the same Christmas storage boxes I just emptied.
We do not have room for all the Christmas angels my husband collected over the years, and I have to limit the Hallmark ornaments I want to display.
Wrapping paper, gift boxes, and ribbon cover every inch of the double bed in our one guest room. No one is allowed in there, especially the children, because it hides all of the gifts from Santa.  Anyone who plans to stay at our house during Christmas has to find a room at the closest motel.  
Our house is full of “stuff.”
Is your house and your life like mine?  Is it full of “Christmas” things leaving no room for Jesus? If so, maybe it is time to make a change.
Prayer:  Dear Lord, come into my heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit. I promise there will always be room for you there.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Twelve Must-do’s for Thanksgiving


(To be sung to the melody of the 12 Days of Christmas.  Good luck.)
1.     The first must-do for Thanksgiving: buy a pair of sweatpants in one size larger.
2.    The second must-do on Thanksgiving: run both parades on the TV even though no one will watch them.
3.    The third must-do on Thanksgiving: watch all three NFL football games (or take a nap while they are on).
4.    The fourth must-do for Thanksgiving: create four meals with the leftover turkey.
5.    The fifth must-do: eat five servings of your favorite dish: stuffing, potatoes, pie, whatever.
6.    The sixth must-do: eat six pork tamales to offset all that turkey.
7.    The seventh must-do on Thanksgiving: watch seven holiday specials (parades and football games count also).
8.    The eighth must-do: take 8 shots or 8 squirts of any or all of the following: booze (tequila), beer, wine, canned whip cream.
9.    The ninth must-do of Thanksgiving: if on the ninth day, you still have leftovers in the fridge, throw them away, plastic container and all. Eww.
10. The tenth must-do: give $10.00 to your local food bank for each person living under your roof.
11.  The eleventh must-do: say Happy Holidays to eleven family members or friends before the end of the day, especially those who live alone or live far away.
12. The twelfth must-do on Thanksgiving: learn how to say Thank you in twelve different languages and use them all today. Here’s a starter:
Shukran (Shoe-Krahn) - Arabic
Xie xie (Syeh-syeh) - Mandarin
Merci – French
Danke – German
Efharisto (ef-har-rih-stowe) – Greek
Mahalo – Hawaiian
Toda (Toh-dah) – Hebrew
Grazie – Italian
Arigato – Japanese
Obrigado – Portuguese
Gracias – Spanish

Asante (ah-sahn-the) - Swahili 

Monday, November 17, 2014

He calls me Goddess and I call him HoneyBunch.

Our eighth anniversary is right around the corner.  HoneyBunch and I were just discussing how our eight years together have been the easiest years of our lives. Eight years is a good amount of time, yet it has sped by. It feels like we have always been together, yet we were married for long amounts of time to others and we have grown children to prove it.
HoneyBunch is my true soul mate; the kind one reads about in romance novels.  He is the true love one writes about in journals. He is the knight in shining armor discussed in legends. What makes him so easy to love is that he is a true gentle man.
To say I love him is not sufficient. There is no word in our language to describe what this man means to me. He is my friend, my lover, my husband, my critic, my comfort, my true other half. 
 He has never done one thing that would make me lose my trust, my respect, or my affection for him, but he is not perfect.  He does sometime annoy me or cause me to roll my eyes in embarrassment or boredom.
He forgets to replace the toilet paper when it is his fault it got down to nothing but the brown cardboard roll or he takes the last bit of coffee in the 12-cup pot every single morning when he knows I never get a second cup. He never just answers my questions. Oh no, he has to first go through long, long historical or political explanations before surrendering a simple yes or no.
Yet, he is irreplaceable in my life. It is an honor and a joy to be his wife.
Sometimes I wish we had met when we were younger so we could have forged our lives and careers together, raised our kids together, shared more time together.  I wish I could brag on the double digit, multi-decades we have been together instead of . . . eight, but he reminds me that our lives had to travel different paths before we could appreciate the rich present we have with each another now.

I love this man and for the first time in my life, I feel comforted in that love. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

When Did I Lose My Groove?

I used to be hot.  I could walk into a room and the music stopped, heads snapped around to get a better view, and women knew they had been outmatched.
Yes, I used to be sizzling.  Even when the pounds started pounding and the years started whizzing by, I still had my groove.
I was a Ten before the world even had the decimal system.  (Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.)
Then all of a sudden, I lost my groove.
Instead of “Hey, Baby,” winks, and ogles, I started getting a lot of “Yes, Ma’am,” frowns, and respectful regards. Instead of men blocking my path to bug me about my phone number, men rush to get the door for me because I remind them of their grandmothers.
I went from Groovy to Grandma in a matter of years.
I blame this durn gray hair.  I should never have stopped dying it.  I was going to “make a statement.”  I was going to “age gracefully.”  I was going to “accept the inevitable” with a smile.
Well, pooh.
I want my groove back.  I want someone other than my dear husband and loving children to think I am beautiful.  I want someone other than my grandkids to see me at a distance and skip for joy that I exist.
Sure, sure.  I still get an occasional leer.  Some old gent will notice me at the doctor’s office, but I used to get that kind of look for the sway of my hips and not because I saunter in without a cane or a walker.
I want my groove back and while I am wishing for the impossible, I would like to lose twenty lbs off my weight and ten inches off my waist. 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Choosing when to Show and when to Tell

In the movie Men in Black, the agents have a pen-like gadget that causes amnesia.  I could have used one of those this past week. 
Two years ago I wrote on how to show and when to tell, so I wanted to be able to reference the older post. In it I gave five pointers on how to “show not tell.” That advice turned out to be erroneous.  Yup, it was wrong. I wish I could take it back, erase it from cyberspace, claim an alien abduction, but alas, I can blame no one else for that post.  In all my eagerness and ignorance, I wrote it and I apologize.
Now, not all of it was bad advice; it just wasn’t what it advertized.
I suggested that a writer could ensure “showing” by eliminating the passive voice and limiting the use of adverbs in the manuscript.  That, folks, is not “showing;” that is a key to strengthening any kind of writing.  It makes for well-written sentences, meatier passages, and stronger manuscripts; and it strengthens both showing and telling sentences.
Showing is more complicated than that. 
It is the difference between Ben Stein reading the nightly news and Carol Burnett and Company acting it out.  It is the difference between a one-hour discussion with Siri on your cell phone and a one-hour discussion with a two-year-old while you chase him through the house.
Both could be entertaining but too much of one without respites of the other would be an overload. A good writer chooses what to show and what to tell.  The showing passages must impact the manuscript, not just overdo it. 
Emotions should always be shown and not told.  When someone is glad, sad, or angry, the reader should experience the emotion without it being mentioned anywhere on the page.  The senses are involved. Comparisons are created by newly created, fresh similes and metaphors.
Broad, non-specific adjectives should be eliminated.  Everyone experiences “fuzzy, cool, weird, scary” differently, so the reader needs to be shown exactly what it means to feel these descriptors. (The only time these words should be permitted is in dialogue, when they are a part of the character’s daily vocabulary.)
Setting must be shown when it is integral to the tone or the mood of the story.  Think about the decrepit, lonely bedroom that belongs to Ebenezer Scrooge, or the drab diner where Toula Portakalos ages along with the Formica in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. Description of the setting is a must when the setting is as important as its characters.
But not all action has to be “shown.” Stage directions where the characters sit, stand, walk to the door are important but they must be stated as subtly as the words in dialogue tags, like “said” or “asked.”
Action that moves the plot forward is shown. Descriptions of the actions along with the emotions that trigger them have to be elaborated. It doesn’t have to be all car chases and bullets flying, but important moments that affect the characters or the plot. Take the scene with Scrooge and Christmas Present where abundance surrounds the ghost and Scrooge asks about the future of Tiny Tim. Dickens introduces us to the two orphans Want and Ignorance, and we feel the remorse Scrooge feels. We are left to hope Scrooge changes with the experience.
*     *     *     *     *
I hope this post atones for the previous one on this subject.  I deleted the other post but maybe I should have left it up on my blog so that the two could be compared and contrasted, and the improvement could be noted, but I am too ashamed.

Instead . . . look into the light - 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Oldest

My brother was a year and nine months older than I was.  According to my parents he was supposed to be my playmate and my protector.  He considered me nothing more than his pesky younger sister whom he could blame whenever we got into trouble with the parents.
There were times his protective, big brother nature did prevail and he would rescue me from boyfriends who did not know how to take no for an answer, and I, in turn covered for him with our old-fashioned, unhip parents.
People often thought I was the oldest.  He was always so youthful looking and so handsome.  I looked mature at the age of twelve and never outgrew my bossiness.  
He went off to Vietnam and I went to college and that was where our paths started to go separate ways.  We both married within two years of each other. 
His life was fraught with pain, the after effects of Agent Orange and PTSD. He went through three marriages and struggled to win back the affection of his two sons.  My life was full with two divorces, a career, and three, amazing and forgiving children.
We resembled each other the most, even physically, so when he was diagnosed with Diabetes, I knew it would soon show up in my make up as well. His was more severe.  Like my mother and my other three siblings, he went straight into pills and injections, but from the very start, he stubbornly refused to care for himself. He had always been thin, so maybe he thought it would not affect him as much.
He went into a diabetic coma and died on December 26, 2012.  He was 64 years old and nine months old, and at the end of this month (October 2014), I will reach the same age - 64 years old and nine months. It still surprises me that he is gone.  He was my protector, my front line between me and mortality.

I will officially become the oldest among my siblings, but I would rather have my brother.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Horror Movies


I hate horror movies.  I was raised by a grandmother who scared us into obedience with tales of “monstruos, fantasmas, y cuyuis.” (That monsters, ghosts, and boogie men for those of you who do not speak Mexican grandmother.) One wrong move, one tiny bit of rebellion and . . . bam! . . . we were dead meat.  Literally. 
El Diablo was always waiting for disobedient children (like me) to make one wrong move so he could close the deal. I did my share of naughty stuff in the daytime to make me worry what might be waiting for my mortal soul at night.
There is a good reason I have always slept with a night light.  I was born with an overactive imagination and a lack of mental fortitude when it came to anything that lived and thrived in the dark.   
Things with big nasty claws (and in bad need of a manicure) waited for me to fall asleep so they could rip through my mattress and drag me off into . . . wherever spooky creatures drag off big, old marshmallows like me. Things lurked in the dark, waiting for Miss Cream Puff over here to fall asleep so they could PoUnCe on my juicy insides.
Knowing this, why would I want to watch a scary movie?
No, thank you.  I will be over here with all the windows and doors locked, all the lights on, watching It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Trip to Bountiful

One phone call was all it took for us to change our plans last weekend.  We packed the car and off we went on a 1400 mile round-trip visit to the In-laws.  HoneyBunch’s mom was turning 86 and we wanted to celebrate with her.
For the last thirty-something years since HB left the state of Missouri, he has made very few trips “home,” so his parents made two or three car trips down every year to see him and his sons in Texas. They would come for his birthday, summertime, and over one of the winter holidays.  They would stay for weeks at a time when he was a bachelor.  My father-in-law would help in the wood shop and clean up the yard.  My mother-in-law would clean his house and bake and freeze food for him.  
Very few of those trips were ever by plane because my in-laws do not like to fly and because they needed a car for all the “stuff” and gifts they would bring to HB and all the stuff he would send back home with them.
Seven years ago, he married me, and I nosed around about his childhood.  I wanted to meet his extended family.  He talked about them with such love and such humor.  I wanted to put a face to the person.  I wanted to see where he grew up. I wanted to see his grandmother’s farm where he chased chickens and climbed trees.  I wanted to see his father’s land where he and Ed went hunting and fishing, and where they ate frogs for dinner they cooked over a campfire.
I have never lived any further than 300 miles from the very spot where I was born, so it intrigued me why my husband would leave his birthplace and why he refused to visit? It sounded like a wonderful place.
According to my MIL, HB has made more visits home in the last seven years than in the 35 since he moved away. She is counting on this now that her age and her health impede any more visits south and especially when she announced last November she can no longer make the trip.

We went home for her birthday.  Maybe we will make it up there for one of the winter holidays, then there is always next summer.  HB can do the yard and I can bake and freeze for my dear in-laws.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

THE HEAVY LIFTING OF A BEST SELLER


Nothing done well is done quickly. Or cheaply. Or rashly. Or naively.

I have learned this as I struggle to become a published writer.  I started on this adventure four years ago and am still a novice, but I have learned some things along the way through experience. (Cue: It’s a Hard Knock Life)

1.    Never trust anyone who tells you they too have “written” a book over the course of
A.   the drive home from Grandma’s
B.   a weekend of feverish inspiration
C.    a dream they had where God and/or His angels came to them with a command to do so.
Even the best and the most prolific writers have to roll up their sleeves and put in time and effort into their writing.

2.    A memoir is not a chronological, birth to death (or birth to epiphany) biography of a person’s life. A memoir has purpose and a theme. It’s a postage stamp of a moment in a person’s life; a biography is the US Postal Service – large, boring, and archaic. 
Other than to record an amazing experience or an amazing life, why else would anyone want to read a memoir or a biography?

3.    Just because a person can write a good sentence and knows how to punctuate it well, it does not mean a series of well written sentences makes a good book. (This blog post is an example of that.) 
How many books have you bought off the shelf or because they made a best selling list and you have wondered at the quality of the writing or of the plot? Yet, you cannot find fault in any of the individual sentences.

4.    There is a huge difference between how one writes non-fiction and how one writes fiction, and it is not in the number of passive and active verbs. It is not in the “showing and telling.” 
Michener comes to mind. I’ve read three of his books lately and there is a huge change in his writing when he moves from stating historical facts and waxing poetic when he switches to story.

5.    Self publishing works best for those who have already published under traditional methods. One, they have built an audience.  Two, they have been through the publishing process where several professional eyes have guided them through revisions and editions, so they know (or should know) the weaknesses in their process.

After you sell copies to family and friends, you are done for, but if you have established a readership or a fandom, self-publishing might be the ticket.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nakedness

I grew up in a culture where the only time a person is permitted to be naked is at birth, in the bath, and in the privacy of your bedroom; at all other times, a person should be fully clothed.
We settled this in the Garden of Eden: we wear clothes; angels wear robes.
So someone explain to me this rash of successful new TV shows where everyone romps around au naturelle?  I’m talking about the shows on the regular stations, not the ones that take a special subscription and carry an x-rating.
Naked and Afraid is not about internal conflict.  It’s folks out in the wilderness trying to survive in the altogether.  I live in the wilderness.  We country folk would never dare to venture out among the biting insects and poison ivy without covering as much skin as possible.  We know better than to encounter a skunk, chiggers, or a rattler wearing only our bifocals.
Dating Naked is another such show. In my day, dating was an opportunity to spend quality time with a person we liked and wanted to know better. We wanted to eventually see them naked, but most often not on the first date. The couples on this show are not concerned about each other’s souls, nor do they discuss existentialist ideals. They like being naked and want to be around other naked people. They worry more about their grooming and physical appearance than regular folks because they cannot rely on the magic of Spanx. On the up side, they spend less time and money on their wardrobes.   
Buying Naked?  What on earth is that about?  I watched one show where the couple was in the process of buying a house, so I have no idea if the show explores other naked retail opportunities. I could not envision my real estate agent friends meeting with nude clients, chauffeuring them around naked in their family vans to “look at” houses, or vetting neighborhood HOA’s on their tolerance towards home owners who prefer to prune their pecan trees in the nude.
What on earth is next? 
Cooking Naked? I have had frightening encounters while frying bacon and steaming broccoli.  I have had near misses with my Ginsu knife.  Why would anyone want to cook without the benefit of clothes, an oven mitt, and an apron?  
What about Naked Court?  Every time I have been called to show for jury duty, it has been accompanied with a stringent dress code reminder. How could anyone be taken serious in a small claims court when all you claim to own is in plain view except for your earrings, a watch, and maybe some tattoos?
Nope, nudity should stay where it belongs – at birth, in the bathroom, and in the privacy of one’s bedroom.  Say NO! to nakedness.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Guacamole: My Life in Retrospect

My grandmother gave me the best advice when I was young.  She said one should live life with no regrets.  If I should mess up, I should forgive myself, forgive the offender, and move on.
I agree.
At the age of twenty-one, I had all these dreams:  I was going to get my PhD in Languages, move away from my home town, and travel the world.  There was no place for marriage or children.  Family would only hold me down.
Then I got married two weeks before I turned twenty-three and my life took a totally different detour, several actually.  I never got my PhD, never moved any further than an hour from where I grew up, and my travels have been limited to the contiguous United States, a couple of hours into the “interior” of Mexico, and a nineteen day trip into China to meet a handful of in-laws.
Not exactly worthy of one single “Yeeha,” but I have no regrets.
If I were to go back in time and be able to talk to my younger, twenty-one-year-old self, this is what I would say:
1.     Dream big and don’t be afraid to adjust those dreams as circumstances prevail.  What you sometimes think is important, isn’t. Alternatives and adjustments to your dreams are not measures of failure, but measures of resiliency and strength.
2.    Trust in yourself.  Wait before you rush into relationships. You deserve to love and be loved.  You deserve to be respected and cherished. Let your suitor chase you.  You will prove to be amazing, stronger than you ever thought, a better person than you were made to feel. (Remember this.  It will save you two failed marriages.)
3.    Life is messy.  It is like a bowl of guacamole.  Things will get squished together, diced and minced.  It will be spicy and intriguing.

It will be worth it all.  It will be delicious. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wedding Toast: A Mama’s Blessing


In Celebration of John and Bianca Hulsey’s Wedding
September 13, 2014
Most of us say we believe in happy ever afters, but happy ever afters exist only in fairy tales and fairy tales are fiction. I prefer to believe in true love.
True love is more than just attraction and intimacy.  It is affection and tenderness and kindness. It is holding hands and sharing smiles.
True love is unselfish.  It is consideration and caring for the other person more than about yourself.  True love puts the other person’s needs first.
True love in not a fifty/fifty proposition; it is both parties giving and doing 100% for the other.
It is laughter and conversation because true love cannot exist for long without truly liking each other as well.  
It is respect and trust, and it allows for vulnerability. It is confidence and assurance that the other person would never hurt you.  In fact, true love goes to great measure to guard each other from any harm.
It is about loving one another when we are not at our best: when no one would come near us because we have the flu and are covered in contagious germs, when we wake up with bed head and morning breath, and when we shouldn’t have had milk because it does terrible things to our stomachs.
True love lets you go to bed angry (contrary to what relationship experts say) because the other person will not pack their bags and leave you in the middle of the night, instead they will be there in the morning, making it easy for apologies to be exchanged, making your favorite pancakes for breakfast.  
True love is unselfish. You can both spend your daytimes at work, with other friends or pursuing other endeavors (after all, that’s what makes for interesting, well-rounded, independent people), but at the end of the day you find your way home to the other half of your soul.  You find your way home.  
I know all these things because I see these attributes in John and Bianca. They have found true love in each other, and because of this we are here to celebrate their marriage.  We can be assured they will be blessed with a true happy ever after.

I love you, kids.

John’s Mama 

Monday, September 8, 2014

These Are Smart Phones All Right

One of the saddest things I saw once was a whole family out to dinner, and both the parents and the two children did not say one word to each other during the whole meal.  All four were on their phones, texting or playing games.  A toddler in a high chair looked at her family, probably wishing she had a cell phone too. 
This scene has replicated itself many times over.  Just this past weekend, HoneyBunch and I went out to dinner and the couple next to us spoke more to the waitress than they did to each other.  Neither took their noses out of their phones long enough to make sure they knew the other person.
Cell phones are handy little gadgets and I cannot leave the house without mine.  It is as important as my wallet and my car keys and I carry it in my purse, but once I am home I set it down where I can see it or hear it in case someone calls but I am not anchored to it.
My kids get upset with me if I do not answer my cell phone right away, but I tell them that I am not leashed to it and I often dare to wander far away from it.
I doubt those who invented this technological wonder ever intended the anthropological dilemma that it has, but by providing a gadget that demands so much of our time and reverence, it threatens the family, culture, and society. It steals precious time we should be interacting with each other and focuses it onto a phone.  
I say we should
1.    limit their use at our dinner tables, during homework, reading, or family hours.  We should put away our phones on car rides or trips, and I see no reason why a child should keep a phone by their bed after bedtime;
2.    set parental controls on what our children can access or how long they can use their phones;
3.    observe basic rules of etiquette about phone use at school, at church, during meetings, at the movies, and during formal performances where a cell phone interrupts the enjoyment of the show for others. Phones should be turned off or muted during these times.
These are smart phones all right.

Instead of us using them, they are the ones in charge. They lure us with music, books, games.  We use up all our precious time, dependent on them. Instead of extending the reach of our communication arm, we are held fast to it. Instead of taking a good look around us, talking to those near us, and enjoying the wide expanse of nature, we are held fast, peering at a tiny gadget welded to our hands.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Best, Most Amazing, Truthful, Three Pieces of Advice Ever (!) for those Considering Marriage


1.    Do it!
2.   Do it now!
3.   Do it right away!

No need to thank me; just marry the person you love, the person who makes you feel the most alive, the person who makes you a better you. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ten Revision Techniques: The Belly of the Beast

One cannot revise a manuscript (go into the belly of the beast) without a plan, a tactic, or training.  Writing well is both a science and an art.  There are certain skills that are integral to good writing before a courageous writer can take risks and propel forward to great writing.
Revision is a scientific, laborious task and must be done page by page. 
Step One: Circle or highlight all the verbs on one page of manuscript.  Identify each verb as a passive or an active verb.
Step Two:  Eliminate as many passive verbs as possible by rewriting the sentences, using active verbs in their stead.
Step Three:  Circle or highlight all adverbs. (Remember not all adverbs end in –ly.)  Can the verb and its accompanying adverb be replaced by a stronger, more energized verb? Eliminate unnecessary or redundant adverbs. 
Can any of the remaining verbs (those without adverbs) be replaced by a more energetic or descriptive verb?  
Step Four: Circle or highlight all repetitions: verbs, nouns, phrases, etc. on the page.  Are they placed too close together where they distract the flow of the sentence, the paragraph, or the page?  If so, eliminate redundant or unnecessary repetitions. Substitute repetitive words with appropriate pronouns or synonyms.
Step Five:  Find, circle or highlight all clichés.  Either eliminate the clichés or substitute them with new or different (but not forced) descriptions.
Art takes risk and courage.
Step Six: Highlight every other sentence so that the length of each sentence is readily visible. Remember sentence length determines the rhythm, the pace, and the tone of the manuscript, so shorten some sentences for emphasis and combine others to create longer, more in depth descriptions.
Step Seven:  Eliminate unnecessary sentences or add sentences where more description or explanation is needed.
Step Eight: Vary sentence structure.  Move where the subject and the verb sit inside the sentence to add interest or emphasize the importance of its meaning.
Step Nine: Show some courage and experiment with parallel structure, juxtaposition, or creative punctuation. Learn how to use clauses and phrases to demonstrate skill.  
And Step Ten:  Show some unexpected risk: do something others do not dare try. Do what great artists do: experiment with unusual techniques and make it your own. For example, look up how to use synesthesia or the zeugma.

You are now armed and ready.  Bring on the beast. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teenagers: Stinky Little Extraterrestrials

Years ago, a skunk sprayed our yard during the night and the next   morning I trekked out to my car to drive to work and unknowingly stepped into the oily residue. I tracked skunk stink into my Jeep and onto the carpet in my office, a room I shared with a kind and forgiving co-worker. It took a week or two and several large cans of Lysol and air freshener to get rid of the smell.
Ever since my profound Close Encounter of a Second Kind (I never saw the skunk but it left evidence of its presence), I became a skunk expert. I learned the way of the skunk. My experience imprinted itself into my hippocampus and I acquired a heightened sense of smell.  I can detect a skunk several miles away, outperforming a normal human nose that can only start to do the same at one mile.
I have the same uncanny sense about adolescents.  After 30-plus years of teaching teenagers and having raised three of my own, you might say, I have reached the Close Encounter level of a Fifth Kind: I have actually communicated with these strange creatures and we have shared knowledge. It sort of makes me an expert, and I am willing to share what I have learned with the rest of you.
I have come to the conclusion that teenagers and skunks have a lot in common.
*     *     *
Skunks are crepuscular and nocturnal; their active hours are from twilight to dusk. During certain times of the year, they are also semi dormant. They are scavengers, eating whatever gets in their way.
Skunks have poor vision and though they have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, they are selfish and selective in the use of these senses.
They are solitary creatures, responding only to the opposite sex.  
Skunks are smelly and offensive, repelling everyone around them for miles.  If anyone or anything happens to intrude into their space, they will hiss, stomp their feet, and posture in hopes of frightening them away. If that does not work, they are forced to fight tooth and nail. As a final recourse, they will let loose a caustic, oily spray that leaves its smell and stain on the intruder for several days, sometimes (like in my case) for longer periods of time.
Does any of this sound familiar?  Does it resemble an adolescent you might know?
Now for the good news.
Most skunks live for a maximum of seven years. The adolescent stage in a human ranges about the same amount of time, so get ready for several years of stinky behavior.
A skunk cannot be tamed without the use of radical surgery, an option not legally available for the parents of a teenager. A better solution for the parent of a surly and repellant adolescent is to adopt the ways of the Great Horned Owl, the only true predator of the skunk. The owl has a limited sense of smell, so it is not put off by the skunk’s aroma. The owl uses what it innately knows about the skunk for its own benefit.  We could learn a lot about the care and handling of these strange creatures from the wise old owl.
First, bear through their stinky behavior.  Don’t condone it or overlook it, but understand why the adolescent is acting out this way. 
Second, know that the teenager’s rebellious behavior is dependent on his innate need to grow apart from his parents and to stake his own identity, especially if his parents have strong identities of their own. Stand firm and parent well.  
Third, their minds and bodies are going through great bursts of chemical and psychological stops and starts. They are loveable kids one moment, strange aliens the next; lethargic one moment and prowling the house like caged animals the next; sweet one moment and venomous the next. Let go a little.  Give them some responsibility and pray for the best.
Fourth, the best time to communicate with them is during their cute, yellow Minion stage; the worst time to try to get through is when they break out in hairy purple. Remember to listen, listen hard.
Lastly, getting skunked is no fun.  It hurts and offends, but in the end, after the stink has worn off and Lysol and air fresheners have saved the day, both you and the adolescent will have learned from the experience.

Good luck.