Monday, August 14, 2017

The Importance of a Simple Thank You


One of my biggest peeves is not receiving a simple thank you for a gift given lovingly and willingly to another. 
Grandma asks a child what he wants for Christmas or his birthday and gets a long wish list.  After the child opens the present, he tosses it aside and grabs another without acknowledging or thanking her. The time, effort, and money spent in the process is treated inconsequential, a right and not a privilege.  
The following holiday, again the child does the same.  Grandma’s gift is lost among the many others.  No acknowledgement.  No thank you. 
If the outcome is the same whether the giver offers a present or not, then why bother?
I use the example of a grandchild, but my experience has been wide and varied. This incident has happened repeatedly to me with family and friends where a celebration requires a gift. 
What happened to the formal thank you note?   Why is it considered antiquated when the giving of gifts hasn’t gone out of style? We complain about the entitled generation, yet we teach (and accept) entitlement to our children.  How many of us write a thank you note to those who give us presents?
I do.  I send thank you’s to those who remember me at Christmas, my birthday, and other holidays.  When I forget to write a note, I make sure the giver knows personally how much I appreciated their kindness. I tell others about my gift and brag on the present and the giver. Yes, a gift should be given willingly with nothing expected in return, but shouldn’t appreciation and delight be acknowledged?

I have gotten wiser and meaner as I age. My memory is as sharp as ever. I will continue to acknowledge those who give me presents and who thank me in return for mine.  Their names will go on my “Nice” list, while the others, well, there is a reason it is called the “Naughty” list. Why bother if my gift means nothing to them? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Happiness – A Simple Explanation


Scientists can prove “happiness” through brain scans, chemical secretions, even the subtle change in individual cells.  It has also been proven that one’s facial expression can affect one’s disposition.  The body anticipates “happiness” if one practices smiling.
I don’t need all that to know what makes me happy.
-       Bare toes on the beach, the feel of cold, wet sand soothing away the tiredness
-       A sunrise, its promise of a new day
-       A vibrant sunset, the accomplishment of that promise
-       Children’s laughter, especially giggles and squeals
-       The first sip of coffee in the morning
-       A drink of cold water flowing down a parched throat
-       A satisfying ending to a good story, be it a book, a tale, or a movie
-       A small, unexpected kindness
-       A loving, understanding partner, family, a good friend
-       A decadent dessert or a simple, crisp saltine cracker
-       A moving piece of art; music that stirs the soul
-       The perfect bubble
-       A butterfly, a dragonfly, bird in song
-       Warm, soft socks
-       A roof over my head, safety from the world
-       Food on the table
-       Fireworks
-       a hug, an embrace, a slow dance with the right person
-       knowing that you made a difference, fought the fight, left a legacy
-       the belief in God and in life after death; we are part of something larger than ourselves

Happiness – the reasons we live our lives to the fullest, relishing the simplest of things that matter. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Surviving a Panic Attack

I sat my three kids down to give them the news. I was losing control, overwhelmed by the divorce.  I felt my brain on overload and I was inches away from a breakdown.  I needed their help. I needed them to take care of me while I rode out this storm.
          All three sat there stunned.  In their early twenties, they were barely adult enough to care for themselves, and I was “the strong one,” the one parent they relied on, their tether while they tested their wings on their own.  I had always warned them not to put me on a pedestal.  My feet were made of clay.  I was mortal and finite. And just as human as they.
          Right now, I was moments from slipping into a serious anxiety attack. I knew this because it wasn’t the first time I’d had one. Twenty years prior I froze in front of an auditorium full of educators who had come to hear me speak about the use of a computerized reading program.  I was legally separated (from the same man) back then, so my mind was on more important things than selling an expensive product to school administrators.  The sales person who had invited me to testify took over, but I doubt many sales were made that day.
          When none of my kids stepped forward, I didn’t blame them.  They too were traumatized by their father’s abandonment, so losing me scared them beyond words.  We were all a mess, so I called my mother and told her I was packed and on my way to her house.  I gave her the route I would take and ETA, then I drove to her house on autopilot.  She took care of me for four days, the time it took for me to come out of my dreamlike state of detachment, and I found my purpose and determination again.
          I always wonder why people do not die from a broken heart.  I guess some do; those who do not have healthy bodies.  The rest of us keep on living and the closest we come to dying is through anxiety attacks.
          I had another one a few months later.  I was still feeling a little wobbly when my brother-in-law passed away suddenly and my sister and niece asked for my help with the arrangements.  I was supposed to read Scripture at his funeral mass but when it came time, I froze.  I grew roots to the floor and panicked.  At the same time, I wanted to run out of the church but I could not move. I could not do anything, so I looked at my sister and niece and choked out something.  They calmed me down and covered for me.  The grief for my brother-in-law plus my own personal tragedy was more than my brain and my heart could handle. It only lasted for a few hours, but it proved I was a fraud. I wasn’t as strong as EVERYONE thought I was.  I was human and I hurt just like everyone else.
          I hadn’t had a panic attack in sixteen years, so I do not understand what triggered the one that visited me last week in the middle of the night while I slept. I was dreaming nonsense, some humdrum, boring conversation between me and some faceless person about some nothing subject, when – bam! – I woke up with a jolt, a whiplash like one experiences when a roller coaster makes a sudden stop. All my muscles were immobile, frozen, mummified. My heart was racing and I felt an overwhelming fear as if Satan himself was in the room. I looked over in the dark at HoneyBunch, but I could not move nor talk. It would take an effort I did not possess to tell him what was happening, so it was up to me to help myself.
          I assessed the damage.  I was not having a heart attack or stroke.  I recognized it as a panic attack.  I searched my brain for the cause of anxiety but found nothing that would cause a reaction this extreme. I took three deep, slow breaths.  I grounded myself, noting three things to identify my surroundings.  I forced myself to relax using the yoga technique where you start with your toes and work your way up the body.  I kept taking deep breaths and felt myself regaining calm.  As I thought of three, good things in my life that make me smile, I got into a comfortable sleeping position, and I prayed myself to sleep.
          I shared this with HoneyBunch the next day and he and I have discussed it several times since.  Our best guess is this time of year.  Many sad things have happened to us in the month of July over the years, so that might have triggered the panic attack. All I know is I am alive.  I am human and my feet are on the ground and not on a pedestal.  

          

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Infamous, Ginormous, Dreaded School Supply List


          The day after the 4th of July, the stores in my area ripped everything summer off the shelves and replaced it with Back to School merchandise.  Rows of backpacks replaced swim vests and bathing suits.  Sneakers and ankle boots kicked hundreds of flip flops into clearance bins, and the amount of material on shirts and pants grew longer.
          Though I no longer have kids of school age, seven of my nine grandkids head back in less than a month, and their parents are not looking forward to the infamous, ginormous, dreaded school lists.  One son has five kids, four of them in school, and my daughter has three in school.  Not only do they have to face School Supply Lists for each one, but there are also other back to school expenses: doctors, dentists, haircuts, clothes.  The list continues on and on.  
          It can be quite a hardship that swoops down on parents all at once.  I picked up three different SSLs while out shopping last week, each from three different school districts in my area.  The least number of items on one list was twenty-one different items; the most had thirty-eight. But this will not end there.  No sir.  The children will come home the first day of school, if not by the end of the first week, with additional items required by some of their teachers: lab fees, uniforms, mouth guards or mouth pieces.  They will have bought the wrong color ring binder and the teacher will insist it clashes with the color scheme for the class or the class period. The student will need to replace their four-inch, three ring binder with a three-inch, three ring binder. Mom and Dad will scramble to buy these things while trying to feed their family with whatever money is left in their budget for the month.
          We always had just enough but I sometimes wished I had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          My advice is to hoard.  Along with buying all these many items listed on the SSL, buy extras if you can and keep them for later.  A ream of notebook paper on sale in August costs twenty cents. They do this to bait parents into shopping at their store, so buy extras.  In January when your child needs another ream of paper it will cost about the same as a sirloin steak. You will thank me for this advice later.
          Look for sales.  Shop dollar stores.  Take advantage of the tax-free weekends. You’ll wish you had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          At the end of the year, force (threaten) your children to bring home all their school supplies.  Don’t let them throw them away at school or donate them to the teacher.  It is your property and you want it back. I recycled pencils and pens, scissors and rulers, pencil boxes and zipper bags.  My three handed down map pencils and water colors to one another all through elementary.  In fact, I still own some of those things. It embarrassed them when I dusted and wiped off binders, or when I sent them to school with lumpy erasers, but embarrassing them was part of my job description.
          So was providing for them.
          They came around when I used the money saved on them on new jeans or sneakers or eating out. They agreed with me that some of the stuff on the school supply list was rarely used.  Scissors, rulers, and the immortal water color set do not wear out.

           

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creating Magic Takes Hard Work


I am an organizer, a planner, a list maker.  There is a clock or an egg timer, a calendar or a notebook, a dry erase board or a magnetic clip with note attached, in every room.
When family comes to visit, a meal magically appears on the table.  The house is clean and the lawn is mowed.  Covered dishes warm on the stove and cold dishes chill in the refrigerator.  Pitchers of ice-cold lemonade and tea wait to fill glasses, and the coffee pot only needs to be started. The dessert takes center stage on the kitchen table. We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together as a family. 
No one asks how it all got done.
The week before, I took inventory, making lists of things that need to be bought or set out before the company arrives. Every day of the week has its own list and on the last day the focus shifts into hourly checklists.
Almost as soon as the first guests arrive, everything falls into place as if by magic and I sit and enjoy my children and their families. They did not witness all the work it took to get here, all the pots and pans, bowls and appliances that I used and washed. It looks like I wiggled my nose and everything came together on its own.
We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together.  Every minute of planning and work is worth the effort. My family is growing in size and in age and magical moments together like this are more precious than gold or diamonds.

When it is time to leave and the last car drives off, leaving only fading echoes of children’s laughter and grown up chatter, I have no need for a list or a clock or a pencil. Things will get done, put away, and straightened over the following week, but first, I will sit, smile, and enjoy the tiny bit of magic I helped to create.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Growing Some Grandkids


Four of my grandchildren will be in high school this coming year, one at each grade level: ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade.  They are moving into adulthood at an alarming rate.
When they come over, HoneyBunch and I try to set a good example, one that compliments that of their parents who are doing an amazing job.
It helps to know and examine that “good example” every once in a while, since it is not a given that with our age comes wisdom.
I would like to say to each of them:
1.      Value yourself and who you are, and do not let anyone take that from you. Learn to be independent and educate yourself as much as you can before going out into the world and starting your adult life.
2.    When you give your word, make a promise, stick to it.  Know when to apologize when you make a mistake, sin, or take a wrong turn.  Don’t repeat the mistake and learn to make restitution for it.
3.    Educate yourself about the world, the environment, politics.  Educate yourself and find a job that you will like enough to do it for the rest of your life, one that will provide for your needs and those of a family.
4.    Do your part in protecting your values and of those who depend on you. Learn to protect and defend yourself. Guard yourself and your values.  Be educated enough to know when to dismiss the invasiveness and divisiveness of the world and its insidious rants. An educated mind is hard to sway.
5.    Learn to love and trust, show your affection through actions and words.  If it does not work out, hold no regrets.  Life is messy but well worth the struggle. It is better to love and lose than to never love at all.
6.    Protect those who depend on you.  Children are a great and wonderful responsibility, but life will stop being about you.  It will about them and all their needs.   
7.    These suggestions are not temporary quests but last a lifetime, so while you are educating your mind and heart, learn to guard your body as well.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Keep active so that you can stay mobile and in good health for as long as you can as you age.

8.    Lastly, remember that each of you is loved by a fierce army of family who only wants the best for you. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

My Flair for Prayer


Sitting in alphabetical order in high school English class, I hide behind Johnny Martinez’s wide, football fullback shoulders.  I am in a panic because the teacher announces a pop quiz.
I pull out a clean sheet of paper and shoot a quick prayer of desperation to God and His entire choir of angels as I write my heading and number one to five. 
God knows I am no slacker.  I always do my homework, but after tackling an entire chapter in my history book and doing all the odd-numbered math problems for Algebra II, the English poem about love, virgins, and seduction put me to sleep last night. 
What do I know about sex, especially written in complicated “olde” English?  I am sixteen, I have been kissed once on the lips by a non-relative, and I have been on a total of three dates, all heavily chaperoned by my mean and vindictive older brother.
I had no frame of reference as I read the poem, just some icky feeling that the poet had the hots for some zaftig maiden.
I promise God all sorts of things as the teacher rattles off the questions, and I attempt weak answers.  I promise to be kind to my younger sisters.  I promise to say a rosary every night to the Virgin Mother for one whole month.  I promise to control my impure thoughts about Johnny’s very wide, very muscley shoulders. 
Please, please, please, dear Lord, help me get through this quiz.  My A-plus average depends on this. 
We hand in our papers and the teacher goes over the quiz and the poem.  I get a sinking feeling that I will not get anything more than a few points on the quiz, but on the bright side, I won’t have to keep the promises I made in desperation.
To my surprise, the teacher returns our papers the next day and I have made an 80.  It must be a miracle or a mercy.  She explains that upon looking at our answers, she has reconsidered some of our answers and has accepted some of our literal interpretations though she expected a better understanding of the allusions. 
Her explanations the previous day helped me some with those, and I think it is funny that the poet and I had more in common that I first expected.  He wrote about his salacious attraction to a beautiful maiden and I spend most of English class wondering how it would feel to run my hands over Johnny’s double wide shoulders.

But now that God has kept His side of the deal, I will have to keep mine. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pity Party


Raised by my mother and grandmother, I was never able to get away with much.  They both agreed on swift and immediate punishment, so the wait time between my being naughty and my punishment was almost instantaneous. My grandmother would at least ask for my side of the story before yelling at me.  My mother was more the spank first, ask questions later type.  She often discovered I was innocent afterwards, but that never prompted an apology.  
One time I woke up from an afternoon nap being spanked. I must have been twitching in my dreams so she thought I was faking and administered the swats. When I convinced her that I had been fast asleep she said it was for all the other times I had fooled her.  We went through a spell where I got one or two spankings a day, so the one day I made it until bedtime without one, I mentioned it.  She grabbed me and swatted my bottom twice for sassing her. Oddly, the spankings eased up after that.
Neither one cared about my privacy or self-esteem, so if I saw them burst out of the house and march at full speed toward me while I played outside with the neighborhood kids, I would run back inside the house.  I preferred the privacy of our house than being punished in front of all those witnesses. Not that it mattered; the whole neighborhood knew what was happening. 
Mom blamed me for looking more like my father’s family than hers and she made it sound like a curse, but I took it as a blessing.  Maybe I was adopted? I confided that to a friend’s mom one day, but she smiled at me and told me she was pretty sure I wasn’t adopted. Without taking sides, she comforted me saying some parents are just stricter than others. I would one day be too old to spank. I prayed she was right.

I decided when I grew up and I had children, I would treat them with respect. If they needed correction, I would try other means first before administering a spanking.  And I certainly would never do it in public.  I came up with warnings, time outs, and “trips to the bathroom” which meant the culprit and I were about to have a private “talk.”  Sure, there were swats on the hands when they reached for something dangerous and swats on bottoms when they were disrespectful, but they were never spanked out of frustration or anger, and it was never without thought. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Finding Your Courage


I read somewhere that courage is the amalgamation of all the other character traits.  That makes sense to me.  Integrity, leadership, unselfishness, loyalty – name them and I can see where they would all come together in a moment of courage.
What are your top five best character traits?  List them on a piece of paper so you can look at them.  And then look at yourself.
Have you ever had to do something tough, show your courageous side?  These top five character traits you listed are what will get you through whatever you have to face. 
I once told a friend in conversation how lucky I was, how blessed.  She looked at me like I had lost my mind.  She proceeded to list all the bad things that had recently happened in my life:  my divorce, my health, my lack of money.  I was stumped.  Yes, those things had happened to me, but what I saw as blessings, she saw as bad luck.  I honestly think she felt sorry for me.
The difference between us was obvious.  I have a positive outlook on life.  I am hopeful.  I am thankful and grateful for all the good that has happened.  I am not only intelligent, but I am also smart.  I am loyal and honest and demanding. 
And all those things give me courage to give this thing we call life a real kick in the pants.  So when I am faced with tough outcomes or tough decisions, I gather those things within me and get the job done.
What are your top best five characteristics? Take a good look at yourself and the next time you have to face a tough decision, go find your courage.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grandpa HoneyBunch


When I started dating HoneyBunch, I only had one grandson.  The four-year-old asked me where I was going one day. Instead of telling him I was going on a date, I told him I was going to get us a grandpa. He told me we were fine without one.
When HB and I decided to get married, we only invited our children and our parents.  They witnessed the pain our divorces from our first spouses caused and we wanted everyone to know that we still believed in the institution and that marriage can end in happiness.
HB’s two sons were single at the time and in school pursuing their law degrees.  Two of my three were married and I only had the one grandchild back then. We asked our five for permission to marry which surprised them all, but we did this because our five were still reeling from the pain of our divorces from their other parents. We wanted to know how they felt about our decision since this concerned them.
I didn’t want to replace HB’s sons’ mother, and HB didn’t want to come between my children and their father, but we wanted to be together legally and spiritually. We knew we might have to face obstacles blending our families together.
It surprised us when our children accepted us as a married couple so quickly.  Maybe it was that my children saw how kind and loving HB was to me.  Maybe it was the way his sons saw that I loved and cared for their dad. This is a real marriage; the only one for the rest of our lives, so my three and his two soon became our five. There is no yours, mine, and ours. 
When people ask, we say we have five children, four sons and one daughter.  They are all married and we have nine grandchildren but there may be one or two more one day.

The best thing that ever happened to this family was the day I decided to ignore the four-year-old’s advice and set out to get us a grandpa.  Our family was blessed the day I married Grandpa HoneyBunch. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fathers’ Day Celebrates the Good Guys


It is difficult shopping for Fathers’ Day cards when Dad is no longer with us.  I stay in the section dedicated to husbands and sons, and I do not tarry looking at cards for Dads. 
It’s been eleven years since he has been gone, and it does not hurt as much when I think of him, but that does not mean I do not miss him.  I wish he were here to meet HoneyBunch and to enjoy my grandkids, his great-grandbabies. He would have loved them all.
I was one of the blessed ones, those who had a great father and who the holiday celebrates.  He had his quirks and he wasn’t perfect, but he was kind and protective and a great provider.  He was funny and gentlemanly, and he was as intelligent as he was handsome, but he preferred to be known for being a dad. We meant the world to him and we always knew it. We were his legacy.
I shared him with two other sisters and three brothers.  My sisters and I joke that each one of us was his favorite.  We say that because he had the knack of making us each feel special, the loves of his life.
As I chose cards for my husband and my sons for Fathers’ Day, I realize not every father deserves a card or to be honored next Sunday. There are those who, unlike my Dad or my husband or my sons and my son-in-law, do not deserve the title.  Instead of kind and protective, they are cruel.  Instead of good providers, they shirk their responsibility.  Instead of loving their children and guiding them through this world, they think of themselves first.
My father said those men did not deserve to be called men, much less “fathers.” He said a real man would face his responsibilities and protect his family.  A real father would think of his family first and would set a good example for his children.   To deserve his children’s respect would be foremost in his mind. 

I wish all good fathers a wonderful day next Sunday.  I am blessed to have had a wonderful dad and he would be pleased to know that his legacy lives on through my children and their families, and I see the same integrity in my grandchildren.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ten Things I Hate About Traffic


Folks ask if I miss “the big city.” Yes, I miss a lot of things about living in a big city, but the traffic is not one of them.
Why would I miss drivers who do not know how to use a blinker? What is so difficult about turning on a blinker when switching lanes, or turning it off when finished?
Why would I miss drivers who think they alone own the Multi-Trillion Dollar Roadways when we all know they’re in the same tax bracket as we are? These road hogs honk and cuss and gesture obscenities as if they own the place and I am trespassing.
Why would I miss those who ride my bumper so closely that I can see them in my rear-view mirror as if they were riding in my back seat?  
Why would I miss the drivers who force themselves into my lane after I have been in line waiting my turn, or those who shoot into my lane from a non-turn lane and then honk at me as if I am the one in the wrong?   
Why would I miss those who depend on my benevolence to offset their stupidity?  I’m the reason they made it home today - the fool who swerved into my lane before clearing my front fender, or the idiot who waited until he saw the whites of my eyes before darting out in front of me at an intersection.  You’re welcome.  You owe me your life. 
Why would I miss the speed demon who passed me up because I was going too slow for his taste and then refused to make eye contact when we met up again at the next light?
And I do not miss the sadistic bozo in front of me who waited until the left arrow turned yellow before making a run for it, leaving me to sit through another red light. Or his cousin, the jerk who blocked the intersection during a go light instead of waiting back at the intersection like the rest of us, and now no one can move because his vehicle is in the way.

Yes, there are lots of things I miss about living in a big city, but the traffic and their drivers are not among them. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Aging Gracefully


HoneyBunch and I are blessed to still have our parents with us.  We are also blessed that they are in good health for their age.  His parents are extremely active in their church and community and travel quite a bit; my mother is still sharp in mind and has her sense of humor about her. So many of our friends cannot say the same about their parents.
HB attributes his parents’ mental health to their spunk and activity.  He thinks this is what has kept them “youthful” in comparison to everyone else who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s. All three of our parents are in their late 80’s and early 90’s and do not like to be treated “old.”  I have often been scolded for helping my mother-in-law into my husband’s truck, and my mom is the same way. As matriarch of the family, my mother rules with a firm hand and keeps everyone in line. 
I have noticed lately that my mother rambles and repeats a lot of things, but then so do I, and I am twenty years younger. I have noticed HB’s parents tire easily and talk about the same things over and over.
I prefer this to others their age who have been robbed of their lifetime memories because of some form of dementia.
Though I agree with HB that it is their activity that has helped keep the three of them “youthful,” I often wonder if it isn’t the opposite.  They continue to be active and spry because they did not fall prey to dementia.  I have witnessed some with Alzheimer’s who were more physically and mentally active in their lifetimes than our parents. They were athletes, professors, scientists, multi-linguists. They cared for their bodies by eating right and exercising.  They had brilliant minds; yet, they did not escape this cruel disease.

I hope HB and I inherit our parents good fortune.  I hope one day to be the grandparent who “never aged,” and I pray the same for my HoneyBunch. I want to swat at people’s hands when they try to help me climb into trucks. I want to be known as the family matriarch.  I want to die of old age with all my memories tucked inside my heart and mind and soul.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Team Lost Last Night


One of the reasons I fell in love with HoneyBunch was his love of sports.  He made it clear that the woman he married had to love the Dallas Cowboys. (I did.) I told him the man I married had to love the San Antonio Spurs.  (He did.)
          We both agreed baseball was best watched live, but he kept secret that he has a terrible TV addiction to professional golf, though I would have agreed to marry him anyway.
          This love of sports runs in his family.  His parents are avid St. Louis Cardinal fans, his older brother races cars and yachts, and his younger sister lives at the gym.  In fact, she and her daughter teach classes there.
          My family was never much interested in sports.  Only my sister Mari and I have ever taken a gym class aside from those required in school or college.  Mari and I have joined gyms, taken dance classes, and walked or jogged many a mile, and our kids carry on the legacy. Both her daughter and my three have been in extracurricular sports and can watch a game with a better-than-average understanding of the rules. 
          I love games and sports are just that – physical games. Like in life, they have rules.  There are breaks, and there is bad luck.  The good guy doesn’t always win, but sometimes, the real winner isn’t the one with the trophy – it’s the one who demonstrated the most persistence, integrity, and courage. 
          The San Antonio Spurs lost their bid for the NBA Western Conference Championship, but I could not be prouder to call them my team. I have been a fan of theirs since the mid-seventies.

          Football season is a long way off, and until then, we will be watching a lot of professional golf on TV. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Life is a Series of Plan B


Every time the movie The Martian comes on TV, I watch it.  It does not matter how much of it I have missed.  I love it all.  I have the book on my TBR pile but have not had the time to read it.  I hear it is better than the movie, but for now, it is me and Matt Damon.
I love the character Mark Watney and I love the way Matt Damon portrays him.  The determination of the human spirit to succeed against steep odds speaks to me.  At the end of the movie, when Mark Watney introduces himself to the astronaut candidates, he voices the theme of the movie: to succeed in life, you solve one problem, then the next, then another, and so on.
I totally agree.  Life is a mixture of courage and confidence.  Courage is the embodiment of all the good traits inside a person, and confidence is trusting in those traits to get the job done, no matter how impossible, uncomfortable, or challenging.
Life is never giving up hope. It is Plan B after Plan A blows up in your face, followed by Plan C and D and so on until you run out of alphabet and you start using numbers. It is fighting until the very end.
I have had my share of challenges, some sad and some silly.  All of them have made my life memorable.  One key I use when in doubt is to ask myself, “If I do not do this, will I regret it?”  If the answer is yes, then I find the courage or the confidence to try.  It does not always get me the result I wanted, but I have never regretted trying.
One of the most amazing secondary themes of the movie The Martian is the resilience of the character.  He persists with patience and hope and humor. And grace. He knows himself better than anyone.  He knows what he needs to keep going.  He depends on himself, his intelligence and perseverance, and he goes to it in a methodical manner. At the end when he cries, it is because all his sacrifice pays off. 

Life is never giving up on yourself. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Unexpectedly, The Adverb Turned into a Swan!


          Contrary to some self-help advice, the adverb should not always be the first to go in the revision of the first draft.
          Yes, it is often overused, but it is also misunderstood.
          Most often the rule of thumb is to eliminate all adverbs, especially those with an -ly ending, but a better measure is to read the sentence both with and without the adverb.  If the sentence is stronger without, then do without the adverb. Another common piece of advice is to eliminate the adverb and substitute the verb with a stronger version, one that blends both the original blah verb and the overworked adverb.
          But better yet, why not look at the adverb from a new perspective?  Use it to change the meaning of the verb; use it to contrast with the verb, and not just to modify or intensify the verb.
          Do not look at the adverb as a simple -ly annoyance no one wants to claim, but look at all its many versions.  Besides the single-word adverb, which when used to contrast with the verb can be very effective, remember your high school English classes.  There is the adverbial clause, the adverbial infinitive, the adverbial participial phrase.
          The adverb is a swan; not just an ugly duckling. (Pun on the -ly ending.)
          Let’s review:
1.      Opening adverb (at the start of a sentence and separated by a comma):
Mistakenly, adverbs are usually the first to go in the revision of the first draft.
2.    Delayed adverb (tucked inside the sentence and surrounded by commas):
Beginning writers are advised, indiscriminately, to eliminate all adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs.
3.    Adverbial clause (a clause – has a noun and verb in it - that explains the verb further):
They edit all adverbs, slashing as they go, although the original sentence was stronger because of them.
4.    Adverbial infinitive (an infinitive – to plus the verb - that explains the verb further):
The trusting, new writer sometimes sacrifices his voice to pacify general advice.
5.    Adverbial participial phrase (-ing word that creates a phrase (non-sentence) that explains the verb)

Studying the correct use of the adverb, the writer can contrast and manipulate it to create lyrical prose.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Have Blog – Will Write


With over 340 million registered blog sites worldwide (as of 5/1/17), why do I blog?  What makes me think any of my postings will ever matter?  Well . . .
1.      I have this burning desire to write.  It has been my lifelong creative outlet.  I am lost without a pen or paper within reach. Others paint.  Some act or sing or dance.  I write. I have been blogging once a week for the last six years.

2.    Like any other talent, it must be harnessed, practiced, and perfected.  Not all my posts are masterpieces, but blogging forces me to find ideas, shape them, and present them in written form to an audience.

3.    Blogging exercises my writing voice.  Does it appeal to an audience? Do they want to read more?

4.    Having to blog on a regular basis musters my mental muse whether it wants to be mustered or not. Coming up with a weekly blog teaches me discipline and responsibility both to myself and to the reader.

5.    It builds a body of work.  It is a visual resume.  It increases my readership and my SEO.

6.    Claiming my domain and using it as my blog name protects my brand and my platform from others.

7.    Blogging has taught me a lesson about keeping my voice genuine, uplifting, and responsible to the reader.  I try to never give advice that would hurt the reader in any way.

8.    It has become an example of my writing range – biographic, humorous, introspective, fictional. I have used it as a reference on several occasions on queries and applications.

9.    When folks ask about blogging, I can point to my six years of experience, my over 350 blog posts, and the analytics that come with my dedication to this writing form.

10. Bogging has given me feedback that I use as I evolve as a writer – not just in the exercise of writing but also in marketing and in keeping abreast of the latest internet media. With over half of the world’s population on the Internet, a true writer/author needs to be able to employ this canvas. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My 1963 Rambler, El Tanque


My first car was a 1963 Rambler.  My dad bought it for me in 1971 because I needed transportation to get from college to my student teaching assignment.
A boxy looking sedan, engineered by the American Motors Corporation to be economical and sturdy, the Rambler was not exactly what I envisioned as my first ride.  A putrid pink, somewhere between flesh color and throw up, I nearly fainted when Dad drove home with it.  
On one of my first outings, I turned the wheel too much while backing out of a parking space and scraped the whole side of the car parked next to me.  It looked like it had been hit by a semi-truck. My car did not have one scratch.
Made of solid iron, I named my pink baby El Tanque, the tank.  
A few weeks later, I t-boned a mustang that belonged to some high school football hero who lived down the street from us.  For the record, the kid was at fault this time and not I, so he got the citation. I was following him when he slowed down and rode along the curb on the right. When he came to a complete stop, I started to pass him. It turned out he was making a wide turn to the right before turning into his driveway on the left. Thankfully, I wasn’t going too fast when I plowed into his driver’s door. This was before seat belts, so the impact threw him into his passenger side and that saved his life. His new Mustang was totaled and he was in crutches for several months.  The Rambler had a scratch of paint on the bumper that came off with some Ajax.
When I called home a week later to report I had been in another accident, my dad was in good cheer because I was innocent once again.  He said bad luck usually happens in threes, so maybe this was it. This accident was caused by a woman who was not paying attention to the traffic lights. While I waited for the light to change to green, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that she was not going to stop, so I jammed my foot on the brake and gripped the steering wheel.  The woman hit me so hard, the Rambler jolted and so did I.  Once again, the Tank held up but the woman’s car had to be towed away.  
By now the Rambler and I were infamous, a joke in the family.  I prayed it would all stop before something worse happened.
Not long after that, I was in the middle of a busy street, waiting to turn left into a parking lot, when suddenly, a man driving a motorcycle coming toward me lost control of his bike.  It went one way and he flew straight into my windshield.  Like a rag doll, he barely made any noise on impact.  He looked at me as he melted softly off the right side of my hood unto the street.
I was afraid to check on him, thinking he was dead, but an ambulance and the police soon appeared and assured me the motorcyclist was okay, a few broken bones, but nothing serious. When Dad got there, I cried.  I bawled.  I wailed and I told him I thought the Rambler was cursed.  He assured me that wasn’t true.  It was just temporary bad luck and it would all end soon. He said, one thing for sure, the Tank would keep me safe through good or bad.
I made him promise me that was true.  He laughed but he promised.

I kept that car for almost ten years before I traded it in for a bigger family sedan.  I had three children and we needed a new vehicle.  I cried when I gave it up.  El Tanque and I were family.  We had been through so much together, so many trials and adventures. She wasn’t a beauty on the outside, but she was my first car and my protector, and that made her special.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Facebook – It’s the High School Cafeteria All Over Again


We enter the cafeteria in waves. We look around scanning for friends.  The self-proclaimed cool yell for each other from across the room. The louder we yell, the more important we feel. 
All the cliques jostle for space in the lunch room: the jocks, the nerds, the thugs, everyone. 
Importance is measured by volume and drama. Popularity is measured by number of friends, both true and imagined. Acceptance is decided by “others,” how we dress, speak, act.
We pretend our privacy, but relish rumor about others.  Rumor becomes gossip and gossip becomes truth.
Territories are marked, that club over there, that organization opposite, the undefined along the wall.
We dread the cafeteria but it is a part of who we are and cannot resist its lure. 
*     *    *    *
One billion of us log onto Facebook. We scroll through the feeds, scanning for friends, some we have never met or will never meet.  The Pope, the President, movie stars. We know more about the lives of strangers than we do about family members.  
On one hand, we bewail the loss of privacy; on the other we hope our posts crest over the FB algorithm and go viral, and we end up on the 6 o’clock news or Ellen or Huffington.
We are willing to sell our privacy to strangers, so we worry about selfies, platforms, domains, brands. We put up with trolls and threats from people with too much time on their hands and too little brains.
We have redefined “news,” and grammar, and punctuation.   We pin and tag and poke, meme and post. Every day we learn some new hook that keeps us lured to FB.   
Instead of outgrowing the cafeteria culture we left behind in high school, we are reliving it through Facebook.