Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Annual Christmas Letter


          Every year it shows up under the guise of a Christmas card.  I open it to enjoy the card within and out it drops – the pompous Christmas letter. 
          You know the one – the letter that goes on and on about all the Wonderful, Amazing, Aren’t we cute, newsy letter about all the accomplishments the “family” accomplished in one human year. 
          The trips, the awards, the marriages, the babies, the usual whoop-de-does that are really wonderful accomplishments, but that we already heard about on Facebook, through phone calls, and the usual family grapevine. We already ooohed and aaahed over it.  We smiled.  We congratulated.  We paid homage. 
          Why must we be reminded of it all again?
          I scan the letter to make sure I didn’t miss something, but also, I look for typos.  I read between the lines.  I wonder if the uninformed know the real story behind the stories printed there in 12-point font, Times New Roman.
          What no mention of the DUI?  The six weeks’ scholastic probation?  The past-due notice on the new car?  What about the little skeleton in the closet no one talks about but everyone knows exists? 
          Now, that Christmas letter would be the one we would all look for each year.

          

Friday, December 23, 2016

My Twelve Days of Christmas


One day before Christmas, my raucous, blended family dropped by to see me.
Two bathrooms to clean
Three entrees to cook (turkey, pork loin, vegetarian)
Four mopey teenagers
Five employed, married, live-in-their-own-house, grownup children
Six rolls of Costco wrapping paper
Seven phone calls from funny-sounding people wanting my Visa pin number
Eight bottles of delicious, soothing on the nerves, red wine
Nine pairs of pajamas to buy for grandkids
Ten pounds gained on the bathroom scale
Eleven funny Santa hats waiting for little heads
And twelve months to recover my bank balance, goal weight, and sanity.


Feliz Christmas, y’all!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Last Pair of SweatPants on Earth


          For fifty years of my life, for six, sometimes seven days a week, I wore what my grandmother called “Sunday best.”  I dressed up daily, put on makeup, fixed and sprayed my hair.  I wore heels.  And then I retired.
          Except for church on Sunday, I no longer needed to put on makeup daily.  I stopped fixing my hair and only ran my fingers through my short do.  I wore flip flops and house shoes, but every three or four days, I ran out of things to wear. I needed more play clothes in my rotation.
          Before I went shopping, I assessed what I had available and found a box of hand-me-downs my sons had given me when they moved away. It was full of extra-large tee-shirts and a stack of men’s, large, gray sweatpants.
          Up to then, I had ignored my weight gain; my dress slacks cut into my middle and I sometimes wore them without buttoning or hooking the waist.  I bought the larger dresses that take up the back half of the dress rack in stores.
          The moment I tried on my first sweat pant, they became my wardrobe staple. I wore them everywhere, every time, and I even considered pairing them with a nice top and knee high boots and wear them to church.
          By the second year, they started to show wear and I considered buying more, but it was time to face the truth.  I needed to work off the weight.  I joined a gym and replaced the sweat pants with yoga pants.  Yoga pants are what the Walmart Mom wears to Target. I wanted to recover some of my former dignity and worked on my weight and health.  I upped the ratio of yoga pants to sweat pants, and I did wear them to church on several occasions.  

          This year I lost over 30 lbs and downed my pant size to three times smaller than before. It was time to go through my wardrobe and give away a few items before I bought more. I kept a few good pairs of yoga pants, but there at the bottom of the drawer was a pair of sweat pants.  I measured them against my body. They fit, but then I walked over to the donation bag and stuffed them in among the rest of the clothes I no longer wanted.
         I am considering leggings next.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Caldo


          Every Saturday, regardless the season, my father made caldo de res, beef soup, for our lunch. He would quarter a whole cabbage, halve corn on the cob, and add potatoes and carrots to the beef soup bone broth.  He sometimes, but very rarely, made caldo de pollo for he preferred the heartiness of beef over the lightness of chicken.
          We groaned over his caldo de res, wanting hamburgers or pizza, anything but watery soup, but he ignored us.  He recounted an old child’s tale about a mean stepmother who served the broth to her stepchildren and gave the drained meat and vegetables to her own.  She wondered why her hated hijastros looked healthy and robust and her querido bebes grew listless and pale.
          We didn’t care that the broth was healthier than the other caldo ingredients, we wanted to sink our teeth into food and not slurp our way to the bottom of the bowl.
          It has been almost half a century since the days of my father’s Saturday afternoon caldo, but I can still taste it, especially when I make my own for HoneyBunch.  I rarely make caldo de res; I had my fill of that as a child, but I enjoy dressing up a can of canned by adding extra broth, canned tomatoes, and spices like oregano, basil, or cilantro. I make a killer green pea soup and a tasty broccoli cheddar.  There is a “skinny soup” I hijacked out of a Weight Watcher cookbook that I adjusted to my own taste.

          Every time I take my first slurp, I remember my dad and the story of the mean stepmother, and I can feel its magic working its way down my tummy and into my bones, especially my soul. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Eulogy


When I am gone, I hope everyone misses me for a long, long time.  I hope my life was not a ripple but a big splash, and no one will be able to “get over it and move on.” I hope I am missed and not dismissed.
I hope folks will set a place for me at their table, reach for their phones to text me, or add me to their Christmas list before they remember I am no more.
I hope folks will smile, feel sad, and stop what they are doing to remember me for one second.  I hope I made a difference in their lives and it was all good.
Nothing sadder than having existed and not lived a good life, one that is remembered long after I am gone.

I hope that even when those who knew me have joined me in the afterlife, my splash will have reached the generations after.  No need to have known me firsthand.  No need to recall my name like some person in a text book.   What I hope is that my love for others, my words of well-earned wisdom, my kindness will have been sown forward, and a little bit of ME will still exist. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

THE BLOG on BLOGGING: ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON



So, you’ve decided to blog.  Let us ponder your options. 

OPEN THE POD DOORS, HAL
Why do you want to blog?  What do you have to say or share that isn’t already being said or shared by the other 200 million bloggers out there? Who is your audience? Is it a family-and-friends-only journal or a me-only diary? Maybe it’s an advertisement for a product/creation/business, and you wish to attract awareness/admirers/customers? Is it an exercise in creativity and you are searching for an audience or an outlet for your opus? It is crucial you decide this before you blog.

I HAVE ALWAYS DEPENDED ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
Study other blogs and glean information that will help you decide how to best set up your site and its operation. See what works and doesn’t for your purposes.  Come up with a quirk or innovation that will make it different from the many others. 
If what you envision is beyond your technical savvy, then enlist/hire/beg for help. Will it have links, photos, interactive options? Tabs?  Several pages? Have you considered banners, head shots, color schemes, fonts? Will your blog open onto a full screen, or will your product/text be positioned to the left or the right?
Remember you want to make a good first impression, so don’t broadcast it until it looks and feels right to you. You can always upgrade it or give it a face lift, but your first launch should be your best font forward.
One more thing, consider topics and taboos, subjects you will and won’t do, and decide those with care. 

LOUIS, I THINK THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
Where are you going to post this blog?  Choose a server that will match your needs the best.  Will you link to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.? How often you post will depend on the purpose of your blog.  Will you post when the muse amuses you or will you set up a strict schedule? Set your own guidelines but then announce and follow them. 
Remember if you seek a constant readership, you will need to be constant as well.  A reader’s time is valuable and fickle.  If you treat your blog with abandon, the reader will also. 

NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER
Whether it is a me-only blog or you seek extensive readership, once it goes live on the Internet, it is “out there.” It is a web log, after all.  It is also a visual résumé, forever attached with its magnet to the refrigerator door of Cyberspace. 
Regardless of that daunting thought, here is your chance to stretch your creative muscles, perfect your skill, show off your talent(s). If you write, grapple with the grammar, insinuate yourself into the syntax, and lunge loquaciously into the language.  If you are a visual artist, post pictures, venture out there with vlogs, and tinker with technology.
Establish your platform, your stamp, your voice.                            

LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY
If you’ve truly considered what you will blog about and who it will reach, then you are aware of the importance of privacy and ethics.
Unlike a private journal or diary that only becomes public upon your death or the prying eyes of nosy family, a blog is accessible to anyone who can maneuver about Cyberspace. Not only will your creation be public but so will you. Readers will claim you. You will find yourself pinned on Pinterest.  
You might enjoy the attention, but your family and friends may not. Don’t belittle, betray, or blather about them without their permission.  Don’t post a picture if you want to protect their anonymity. If you do, disguise their names.
Also consider if what you have posted – text or picture – represents you well.  Do you want to become known for that? Always be aware of your theme and message. 
Would you rather be famous for a blook deal or infamous for a lawsuit? Remember you still have to show up for Christmas dinner with the relatives, and you might have to face the ex(s) at the grandkids’ birthday parties sooner than you think.

Starting up a Blog or Newsletter


I.               Your blog or newsletter
A.   Is your opening page/landing page too busy?  Keep it simple and easy to read and use.
B.    Offer only a few options but lead your readers where or what you want from them.  Make sure there is a “Call to Action.”  Provide buttons for readers to sign up as members, to sign up for the blog or newsletter, to leave a comment, or to purchase and item.  (Use different color buttons or bars for this to attract the eye.)
C.    Add videos, podcasts, images, pictures, etc. It increases the amount of time a reader spends on your site and it increases your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) which then leads to Google preference when someone does a search. Make your own videos, create your own pictures, and label your work so they will be credited to you.  If they end up elsewhere, you will own the property and they will link back to you and your page(s).
You will own the property and it will not be reliant on other advertisement. (Almost everyone owns a phone, especially people ages 20-36, so make your own photos and store for future use.)
1.     Use a small file size and save them in jpeg or png.
2.    Themes for different types of video libraries might include: sales, advertising, and marketing; product demonstration; how to, instructional, tutorial; or testimonials.
3.    Include transcriptions when possible for the visual or hearing impaired.
4.    Test your links and make sure they are easy and friendly to use. You might be able to see and access them but your readers might not.
D.    Link or refer to other people’s blogs and websites.  Hopefully readers on those pages will link back to yours.
II.          Writing Your Blog or Newsletter
A.   Target the social media where you will find you readers or consumers.  Older readers rely on email and Facebook, but younger readers like Instagram and Twitter.
B.    Use your blog to find and test your voice. See if you attract an audience.
C.    Address the audience you wish to attract, but be specific, consistent, useful, and relevant.
D.    Make sure your content speaks to the title and subject and optimizes fitting key words throughout the body. 
E.    Keep writing and create a body of work.  Make it relevant to the reader’s needs.  Make it seasonal or useful.  Go for the “evergreen” post. The more Google will notice your body of work, and remember if you stop posting, it will be difficult to regain your momentum.  Google Analytics keeps tabs on amount/body of your work and how many readers it garners. It also helps if you reply to comments and add images because Google is timing how long readers spend on your pages.
III.       If you want to learn more about WordPress as you Content Management System:
A.   Remember it is one of the easiest and most popular CMS because it offers you only the most popular choices to help set it up.  Most of its options are free, and it offers a lot of technical support.
B.    Know beforehand what features you want on your blog or website.  Visit websites you like and create a vision or a business plan before you start.
C.    If it is too much for you, hire a manager who specializes in WP installation and implementation. They will help you set up, manage, update, and analyze data. WP updates several times a year, and a manager will help routinely (24/7) back up, debug, and answer your questions should you decide to add or subtract features.

IV.          Don’t forget to purchase your domain, but consider what you will title it before you go shopping.  Once you call attention to the name of the domain you wish to buy, your search will call attention to its attraction and it might get bought by buyers and the next time you go to buy, it might cost more.  Suggestions:  buy your name.com, or the title or your blog.com so that you own them before anyone else does. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Writers’ Group Dynamics


I belong to a writers’ group.  We meet once a week for two hours.  The first hour we meet as a whole group; the second hour we meet in genre-specific, critique groups. This group has met for over fifteen years and the membership has changed but the group itself has continued with great success.
I joined six years ago and have learned an immensity about writing, and writing well for publication. Of the many, varied writers’ groups I have belonged to (and started) over the last thirty years, this group has taught me more than all of them combined.
The question is why? What makes a successful group?
1.     Does the group have meaningful goals? Are they clearly stated to old and new members? Do they draw people to attend meetings and do they return week after week? Does it meet a need or fulfill a purpose for its members?  
2.    Do they feel accepted and welcomed?  Do they feel part of the group? Do their goals mesh with those of the others? Is there trust that their views and opinions will be accepted, and do they feel they can grow into its community and ownership?
3.    Is it of mutual benefit? Does it help meet the needs and goals of ALL the members and not just benefit one person or one group? Is attention given to everyone or does one person or one group monopolize the time spent together?
4.    Are all members allowed to participate in leadership roles, get involved in the group’s activities, take part in emergent and integral roles within the group? Are all members who wish to volunteer allowed to participate in the work that needs to get done? Do they have a voice in the group’s ownership?
5.    Does it meet the goals set by the group? Is there success, even in failure? Some never meet ambitious goals, yet there is satisfaction in the effort and in the potential displayed by all. When one does succeed, does the whole group celebrates along with them?
6.    There is a reason why this group has lasted as long as it has – leadership. The tenacity and perseverance of its leaders have kept this group going even through the lean years when the membership has waned to single digits. The two women in charge listen to the membership and its needs.  They stay open-minded, flexible, and approachable when it comes to motivating and recruiting members.  The goal has stayed the same for the past fifteen years, but the membership has changed, technology has changed, and writing for publication has changed.

When I say I have learned more about writing from this group than any other I have known, it is because the group agenda changes with the times, information is up-to-date, and individual needs are heard and answered. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Moving to Canada!!!


          Not really.  Regardless who wins the election for President this coming Tuesday, I am not moving to Canada like so many others claim.  
          One, I don’t know anyone there.
          Two, I suck at French. I was so bad at it that I dropped out of the class during my second week as a college freshman.
          Three, I cannot stand the cold.  I become totally physically disabled when it comes to cold weather.
          Regardless of who becomes President of the United States (and I do not like either one of the two major candidates), I am stuck here in the US of A along with all the other inmates.
          I could try moving to Mexico but I don’t know anyone there.  My Spanish is notably not my first language, and the heat might be bearable but the crime cartels might mistake me for a rich American and no one in my family has enough cash to pay a ransom for my safe return. At least, that would be their excuse.
          I guess I will take my chances here regardless of who wins.
There might be some benefit to that.  If the folks who claim they are abandoning the US if their choice for Prez is not chosen actually follow through with their boasts that means half of the complainers, bullies, and boasters will be gone and the rest of us can get on with our lives.

I am counting on their promises about as much as I am counting on the promises made by the Presidential candidates 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Criticizing my Baby

       
My husband and I have been doing craft and trade shows now for one whole year.  It came about because of several things.  One, we started on this huge “downsizing” kick.  We wanted to see if we could live with half the stuff we have collected over the years, so I went room to room in the house and cut our belongings by half, but he had to do the same in his wood shop outside.  He has stacks and stacks of lumber castoffs from the preschool furniture he builds for a living that he cannot bring himself to throw away.  Two, he has greatly reduced his “day job” over the last few years and wants to transition into something to keep him busy and active when he retires.  Thirdly, he loves being creative, making things for our five kids, their spouses, and our nine grandkids, so he decided to turn his hobby and his skill and his scraps of wood castoffs into a new business.
          For the first six months, I helped him organize and work the once-a-month craft shows.  We were learning the business.  I am good at organization; he is good at making wood products.  One day, I too got the itch, and decided to revive my old hobby of sewing for fun.  I pulled out a yellowed doll pattern I kept since my children were children, and made a dozen dolls to sell.  None sold the first two months, but they have slowly started to garner interest.
In the last six months, I have made and sold over 100 dolls.  They are simple, small, five-inch and twelve-inch cloth dolls; all made from two patterns I morphed from others. It surprises me that people want to buy them, and it gives me pleasure to make them and find folks who like them. They are my labor of love, my babies.
So, it hurts when people criticize them.
With each batch I make, I correct and improve the patterns.  I know the latest dozen is much better than the first dozen I made six months ago. I have learned what sells and what doesn’t.  I price them fairly, only making a small profit over the cost of materials.  My labor is free, so when someone picks one up, inspects it, and complains about it, I want to respond defensively. Instead I smile and keep silent. I listen.
“I want this doll’s dress but that doll’s hair.” 
“Why don’t you make it in X football team’s colors?  I would buy it if you had used X football material.”
“Don’t you make boy dolls?”
“You call this a doll?” And spikes it back into the bin.
“You mean this isn’t the five-dollar doll?” Looks at the smaller doll I show her.  “That’s not a doll.  It isn’t worth five dollars.”
I try not to let the complaints get to me though they are insulting my work. My babies. Do they want a discount because it was not what they wanted?  Do they think I am Build a Bear and can undress this doll and that one so we can match that dress with this hair? The dolls are not made to be undressed.  My favorite is the person who blatantly tells me she could have done it better.  I want to tell them to go ahead and try, except these are my patterns, my ideas, my time, my talent, my tenacity. I would love to see them make it for the money I am selling the doll.
Writing fiction is my other love.
Lots of my friends are published authors.  Their work is their baby too.  They bring out Junior or Sissy, and all they hear is: 
“The main character was not very likeable.”
“If the ending were different, it would have been more relevant and believable.”
“Why don’t you write Amish?”
“You call this fiction?”
“This book was a total waste of my money.”

Unless a person has attempted to create something with their hands and mind, labored over it and fashioned it, and offered it to public scrutiny, then they would understand that a critique can be helpful; a criticism is not. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hoarding


My sister-in-law collects Christmas ornaments from all the places she and her family have visited.  She keeps all these beautiful items in a chest of drawers she chose specially for them.  It resembles the cabinets libraries use to keep maps, long deep drawers that run the length of the width of the cabinet.  At Christmas she decorates her tree with these exquisite pieces and can tell the story behind each ornament.
A good friend collects tea cups, not sets of teacups but single cups and saucers in beautiful colors and designs.  She keeps hers in a glass étagère that keeps them dust free and easily visible.
I collect a variety of things.  My favorite are my Willow Tree angels, the original beauties that started the trend.  My husband made me a corner cabinet where I can display them, but I know my limits.  I prefer to collect and not hoard.
A collection is controlled by the owner; hoarding controls the owner. To own something or hold on to it just because of obsession is hoarding, and it becomes a collection of stuff instead of a discreet collection of something valuable.
I have had to teach myself to get rid of things, things I value like books, stuffed animals, kitchen gadgets. Whenever I feel these things are taking up too much of my time and space, I force myself to reduce them by half. For every item I keep, I get rid of one. It hurts and it takes discipline and I am weak but I do it anyway, so I can stand back and value the results. 
Is it a collection or is it just a mass of “things?” Is the result pleasing and enjoyable?  Do I control it or does it control me?

Before you marvel at my self-control, know this:  I secretly covet my sister-in-law’s collection of Christmas ornaments from all over the world, but she has promised them to her only daughter.  The same goes for the collection of colorful tea cups at my friend’s house, but I know those too have been bequeathed to a family member, still it does not keep me from picturing what I would do with them if they were mine. They would go well with my Willow Tree angels. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Finding Time to Write


          Saturday mornings was my writing time.  I would stay in my jammies, make a huge pot of coffee, and sit at the computer until I came up with a weekly blog.  Some days were more successful than others and I would store two or three blogs for future use. 
          Throughout the week I would fit time to write on my latest manuscript. My study, my desktop, and my flash drive are full of unfinished work, all waiting for me to get back to them.
          But life has interfered.
          I have been told that is not a valid excuse, but then what the naysayers say does not count.  
          My husband needs me.
          It is not something drastic or dramatic; he has started a new venture in his life and needs my help. Since he has always been supportive of my needs and wants, I have to reciprocate in kind. In the last few years before he retires, he wants to transition into a new career.  He owns a carpentry shop, making kindergarten furniture for huge school districts.  It was a lucrative but very demanding career and now wants to use his amazing skill to create individual, heirloom quality and fun pieces.
          I do not blame him.  He has built the same patterns over and over for the last thirty-plus years and would like to create something else with the beautiful woods he buys by the truckload.
          I know nothing about wood, hammers, or table saws, but I do know how to organize, decorate, and manage.  I book craft and trade shows.  I talk to the people, get the permits, and make sure we have everything we need when we travel from one show to the other. I order things, write the checks, and make sure he has everything he needs.  I carry THE CLIP BOARD.
          I spend the majority of my Saturdays at craft shows, setting up and making sure everything is priced and ready to go.  Some craft shows start on Thursdays and end on Mondays, so my life is a whirlwind.  I find my days before the shows are also taken running errands, buying things, and making phone calls.

          So when someone tells me I need to get back to my writing, I agree, but life with my husband is more important and more immediate than writing a blog or finishing Chapter Eight of my latest novel. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hobby Fun


Remember that pesky section on the college application that asked you to “list” your hobbies?  The humiliating bullet on the job resume form you have to fill with the “many ways” you fill your leisure time?  How about the moment Tall, Dark, and Handsome at the company get-together wants you to share “what you do for fun?”

And you realize your answer will be as interesting as how you organize your separates on wash day.  Whites here.  Delicates there. 

I read fiction.  I write a weekly blog.  I love crosswords and Family Feud.

So you embellish, embroider, exaggerate.  You lie.

I hike the countryside on weekends.  I love nature.

Hey, I own a pair of hiking boots.  I wore them once and I plan to wear them again one day as soon as my bunion heals. I do love nature even though I have to take allergy meds before I venture outside my house.

I go to the gym three times a week. 

Once again the truth.  I dress, show up for thirty minutes (just long enough to be seen by a few regulars), then I clock out and head home.  It is not my fault my car autopilots to the nearest Starbucks or the one Dairy Queen in my neighborhood on the way home.  I totally believe in shopping local and supporting small business. 

I volunteer with little ones.  I love children.

The truth once again.  I do love children.  I have nine grandchildren and on occasion, I have had to sit them while Mom and Dad needed me.  And it was all volunteer.  No one has ever offered to pay me for the service.

I shouldn’t lie, you say.  I should find an interesting hobby.  One that I really do.  Well, embellishment is not lie.  It is omission of a few facts and exaggerating a few others.  It makes me mysterious. Interesting.  Enchanting. 


It beats telling others that I read fiction, write a weekly blog, and do crosswords and watch Steve Harvey and Family Feud. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

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 that died that day.  They showed us how heroes live and how heroes die.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Do Unto Others


My husband and his sons rented a salt water fishing boat for the day off the Texas coast.  The captain took their money but griped about the cold, rainy weather the whole time they were out fishing.  He wanted to cut the fishing trip short and said so. My men ignored him and enjoyed their day, returning with stories about the grumpy captain, the fish they almost caught, and how their dad kept tossing his cookies over the side of the boat for the majority of the time.
          Why do people work at jobs where they do not like what they do and do not like their clients?
          I have known teachers who hate children, doctors who turn their noses at their sick patients, and sales clerks who get upset when a customer asks for help.
          My advice to all these unhappy people:  quit your job and go find one that fits your personality. And good luck.
          Captain Ahab took the money when my men went fishing.  At the price they paid for his service, it should have come with a smile.  All those teachers who emulate Professor Umbridge as their patron saint should return their teacher retirement checks, and any medical professional with a Dr. Jekyll bedside manner should worry about the day the tables turn and they need the service their clients provide.
          Moral of the story/blog:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Writer Looking for Room to Let


Now that I bought my fancy-schmancy, portable laptop, I need a cool-schmool place to write my ever elusive novel that has yet to see the light of day.
I looked up “places where famous and filthy-rich authors” have written their novels, and it seems I have been doing it all wrong.  No wonder I have not been discovered by the powers that be. I was chained to the house using my old, trusty PC.
It seems famous authors hang out in cafés, coffee shops, and bars, and when it comes to launching their first book, they hold their debuts at these places, giving them well-deserved praise for boosting their muse.  The atmosphere at these cafés created memorable characters, the strong aroma of Colombian brew at the coffee shops evoked passionate plots, and imbibing hard liquor loosened the lexicon.  
I am looking for a cool schmool place to write my novel AND be seen by the adoring public.  I cannot afford much, so there will be no renting of solitary hotel rooms, relaxing condos on the beach, or interminable train rides with romantic vistas. 
I need some place free, like the new city library, but it is still being built.  I would stake a spot at a bookstore but try finding one of those these days, and it is not the same dragging a bean bag over from the furniture department at Walmart every day and squatting by their book and magazine section.
Someone suggested I might as well stay home.  All my resources would be readily available at my house – all the coffee I want, lots of pens and paper, free secured Wi-Fi.  I could lock myself in an empty bedroom, or sit out on the porch and enjoy the garden, or loll in bed while I dream up people and plots. 
Uh, no.  The key to this new plan is the need to be seen by the adoring public while hard at work, besides I live in the wilds, and I fear Zika and chiggers and UV rays.  And the moment I loll in bed I fall asleep.   
So I have decided to write my best-seller-about-to-be-made-into-a-movie at the Whataburger down the street.  What better place to get the juices flowing but at a local burger palace?  Think about it.  I can type away to the tantalizing smell of burgers and onions and French fries frying.  I can loosen my fingers while also loosening my belt.  I can study human nature while people decide meal choices and whether or not to go with the Fancy Ketchup or the Spicy.

When my first book and its movie rights are sold, I will hold my book launch at MY Whataburger to thank them for their muse, and to thank my adoring public for their loyalty, I will treat everyone to free fries, one small bag to each person who shows up.  The choice of ketchup will be up to them.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bonus Babies

Eight years ago, my daughter fell in love and married a single dad who alone was raising his two elementary-age children, a little girl and her younger brother.  My grandbaby count doubled from two to four overnight. 
With Christmas around the corner, HB and I did not hesitate about adding them to our Christmas list, but we were surprised when others did.
Our families are blended.  We were ALL married, divorced, and married again, and the innocents in all this drama are the children.  HoneyBunch and I decided to look at it from the perspective of the child and not from the ex-in-laws.
We would never separate the grandchildren we acquired through birth from those we acquired as a bonus. God entrusted us with this gift, and we honor it.
Our daughter added to her family with two little boys, and one year after that, my youngest son introduced me to his fiancé and her son.  We added him to our Christmas list, jotted his birthday into our calendar, and considered ourselves blessed once again. At that point we had seven little grands to spoil.
Since then we have added three more birth babies into the motley crew we call family.  Those who have not seen me in the last few years wonder where HoneyBunch and I acquired so many grandbabies in so little time. 

Believe me; we had nothing to do with it.  HB and I just smile and enjoy being grandparents to our growing family. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

It’s That Time of Year

Parents are frantically running around, waving their credit cards in the air, trying to get their children ready for school.  I don’t envy them.  That was me for nineteen years, and it all had to be done on a teacher’s salary.
          I learned early to be resourceful.  I spaced out doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments throughout the summer, sometimes starting that huge expenditure the week after school ended in May.  I did the same when upgrading their wardrobes.  I bought them nice jeans and shirts, underwear and shoes throughout the summer, and we used the back to school sales for only a few new items. Hand me downs were acceptable, so my kids often swapped clothes, and even I inherited rock band t-shirts that no one else wanted.  
I made my three bring back all their unused school supplies instead of donating them to their teachers or throwing them in the school dumpster.  They were horrified that I saved their old rulers, protractors and compasses, those little watercolor cases, and usable markers and pens. I even salvaged clean paper out of old composition books and ring binders.  They soon learned that my thrift freed money we could later use on cooler stuff, like name brand shoes, shirts, jeans, and the latest hairstyles.
          I stretched my teacher paycheck further than a politician stretches the truth by hoarding extra school supplies during back to school sales, knowing that reams of notebook paper would cost ten times more come January.
          I became a Coupon Master. I always used a grocery list and clipped coupons (still do). Anyone who has ever raised teenagers knows that without the grace of coupons, shampoos, hair gels, and pimple creams cost a fortune, leaving little else to spend on food.
Our menus fluctuated with our schedules. We made easy meals on busy evenings and saved the more complicated for evenings where we had longer prep times. When school activities took over our lives, our “basic four group” was made up of fast food - hamburgers, pizzas, tacos, or fried chicken. I offer no apology for that. We were on survival mode during those years.  
My three lived with a list making, calendar checking teacher/mama.  They sat at the kitchen table every evening and did their homework while I made dinner. And if they dared to complain they didn’t have any, I made them organize their backpacks and read to me for an hour, usually from the textbook of the class they had the lowest grade.  Funny how that always prompted them to remember some forgotten assignment they HAD to do.    
I expected them to read during the summer to earn privileges. They had chores and regular wake up times and bedtimes, though in the summer and holidays they ran a little later than during school days. A week or two before school started, we would go back to their regular school year bedtime schedule so that their internal clocks would start to reset.
And every night before bed, they prepped for the next day, setting their backpacks by the back door, choosing their school clothes, and double checking if they needed money or a sack lunch, a clean spirit shirt, or an ironed uniform.
It sounds like a lot of structure, but I wasn’t a total ogre. Getting their homework done, preparing for the next day, and doing their chores, usually took an hour every evening.  After that, they had free time until lights out.    
I watch them now with their own families.  I see them do some of the same things I did with them.  Their kids have chores and are encouraged to have after school activities and read books and make decisions.  It pleases me to see them involved in raising their children. The shared responsibility and the struggle of working together is what makes it all worthwhile.


          

Monday, August 1, 2016

Friend Request


As a child, my playmates were my older brother and younger sister, my cousins, and the neighborhood kids.  I didn’t have a best friend until the fourth grade.
          Delma walked up to me one day during recess and announced we were best pals.  I was stunned and delighted.  Someone who wasn’t related to me liked me.  She didn’t need me to play third base or be “it.” She just liked me. This was new territory for me.
          Delma showed me the best bud basics.  She saved me a place in the cafeteria.  She sought me out at recess.  We swapped school pictures and the Valentine cards reserved for “best friends.” She talked to me about boys, her family, and her favorite things; and as my confidence grew, I reciprocated her kindness.
          At the end of fourth grade, she told me she would not be returning to our parochial elementary.  Her parents found it too expensive and she was going to public school.  I was broken hearted.  I was losing my one and only best friend.
          When I told my grandmother, she smiled and hugged me.  She told me I would never want for friends, but I doubted that to be true.  I have always been reticent when it comes to making friends.  It’s like that “Friend Request” on Facebook.  The risk of being ignored, declined, or unworthy is painful. 

I never heard from Delma again but I have thought of her often.  I would like to thank her for her vote of confidence.  I would like to thank her for her kindness and friendship.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Losing a Child

July 25, 2012

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.