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.  




Monday, April 10, 2017

Stop to Smell the Zinnias


          For a brief time in the 90’s, I owned my “dream home.”  It was this spacious, two-story, four bedroom, two and a half bath beauty. It had two living areas, but I turned one into a “formal” dining room.  This gorgeous expanse of HOUSE met you as you walked in through the front door.
          The backyard was tiny compared to the half-acre we owned before so we built a deck that encompassed the whole back of the house.  I made it more welcoming by adding container plants, and we spent morning and evenings outside.
Landscaped by the builder, the front yard had the usual sapling and the all-purpose shrubs most new subdivisions provide. I wanted to distinguish it from all the other front yards on our street, so I went out and bought fifteen envelopes of zinnias. I planted them all in that front flowerbed. By June, the shrubs were hidden among the zinnias.  They had taken over and created a beautiful display of color.
          The flower bed was situated underneath this majestic, cathedral window, and whenever I was home I opened the shades to let in the view. I was surprised one Saturday morning to find people looking in my house while I was looking out. Parents positioned their babies in among my flowerbed and took picture after picture.  Photographers took close ups of my flowers. There were people on my grass and in my flowerbed at all hours of the day and late into the evening, so I made a polite sign for the trespassers and posted it in front of my flowerbed. 
YOU ARE WELCOME TO ENJOY THE FLOWERS, BUT PLEASE DO NOT TRAMPLE MY GRASS OR THE FLOWERBED.
          I sold that house after four years. The new owners were a couple who stopped one day to enjoy the flowers and fell in love with the house.  I have driven by twice, and the sapling is a tree now and the shrubs have been replaced, but the memory remains. I think of my zinnia experiment every spring when I plant flowers in my yard.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Aging Angst, Bad Bladder, and Keanu Reeves


          My intelligent, strong-willed, old-fashioned parents restricted my creativity.  I wasn’t allowed to do anything extra-curricular.  If it meant they had to go out of their way to take or leave me some place other than what the school bus provided, it was out of the question.
          School was a priority in our household; straight A’s a must, so I was shocked to learn that any college money saved was intended for my older brother. There would be none for me.  I got my parents to agree that if I could get financial aid, I could go to college.  They were more than surprised when the offers started coming in during my second semester as a senior. 
          I was allowed to accept the one offer that kept me in town.  At first, they were their usual negative selves, putting up barricades at every turn. They complained I was costing them money, and I was wasting my time and theirs. Secretarial school would be easier and faster than pursuing a four-year, teaching degree.
What changed their mind about me was that my older brother flunked out of his first year of college.  He got drafted and went off to Viet Nam, while I was speeding through university, making good grades.  They were suddenly proud of me. When family asked about my progress, my parents took full credit.  I never contradicted them in public, but privately I reminded them that they blocked me at every turn.
Burned by that experience, I made my first husband promise he would never hold me down in my pursuits.  He kept his word but his own endeavors took precedence over mine or of the needs of the three children we raised.  I was done with barricades in my life.  I was done with negativism.  Life is too short to let others stand in the way of accomplishing one’s dreams. 

The only angst that holds me back now is my aging body.  The aches, the pains, the bad bladder.  I am free to do whatever I please as long as I know where the nearest bathroom is located.  As for Keanu Reeves, nothing negative there.  I would love to meet him one day, but it better be soon.  Shout out to Keanu.  Hey, babe.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Moses Was a Nag

         
Last fall one of my friends decided she would read the Bible in one year as her New Year’s Resolution. She went on Facebook and invited anyone interested to join her on this venture.  To her surprise, several of us signed up. She spent the last few weeks of the old year working up a weekly calendar and forming study questions to help keep us on task.

          Over the years, I have attempted this on my own but I usually lose interest by the time I hit Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Moses becomes a real nag, and I get bored with all the goat sacrifices. When this opportunity came up, I decided to try it once again.

          Why am I doing this?

          I consider myself intelligent and a voracious reader.  I taught English/Language Arts for thirty-seven years to students.  I have read most of the classics and the contemporary masterpieces out there.  Some I have read multiple times and can discuss each at great length, but I cannot say the same about the one, most influential book in the history of modern man – the Bible. Maybe if I joined a group, I could stick through it and get it done.

          We get a weekly reading reminder and those of us who are still hanging in there, respond to the prompts.  Some members share videos, charts, and research found on the Internet, and these really help to give me insight.

          Presently I am halfway through Joshua, and Judges is next.  Instead of using the questions our leader provides, I changed the study more to my liking. As I read each chapter, I go back and find one verse to underline.  In some chapters, I have trouble finding one that I like, but in others, I have trouble choosing only one. I bought an inexpensive monthly planner, the kind where each month takes up two full pages when opened flat.  In the far left square (Sunday), I write the weekly assignment and then use the squares for Monday through Friday to write one quote from all those I chose from that week’s reading. I use the Saturday square and any additional space on the far right to summarize the readings.

          I am in the my third month and as I go back, the quotes and the summaries help me understand how the covenant developed between God and Man.

          It is not fun or easy, but the more I get into the Bible, the more I feel a connection, something I cannot describe. I feel a presence.  It is like He is in the room, observing me, like when a parent stands back and watches a child struggle with homework. There is also a sense of accomplishment, and I hope He is pleased with my attempt to communicate with Him on a different level. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pet Shop


My dad loved animals so he would often show up after work with a dog that someone was giving away free at the office.

Our first dog was a brown, bull terrier mutt. The other dogs in the neighborhood were afraid of this small, muscular, brown dog, but he let my two-year-old baby sister pull on his ears and tail. Butch kept an eye on all of us, but he loved her best.  I witnessed the day he yanked her away from the busy street by the seat of her cloth diaper. He died when I was about eight or nine.

Dad soon after came home with another terrier mutt.  This one was all black and had a white mark on his face, so we named him Zorro like the TV character we all loved. He too was the lead dog in the neighborhood but this one loved my older brother best and would perk up every time my brother played with him.

About the same time, we owned Zorro, Dad came home with a full-blooded English cocker spaniel. We named him King because he looked like a lion with his golden mane of hair. He and Zorro vied for lead dog, but Zorro always won. He wouldn’t play with us. He knew how to unlatch the gate and would take off on adventures at will.  When we chained the gate to keep him in, he learned to climb a vine that grew over the fence. One day he disappeared, so someone may have claimed him for themselves, not knowing they had done us all a favor. 
  
Zorro died when my brother was a senior in high school and I was a junior. It was devastating for all of us, so we all vowed we didn’t want to get a dog any time soon. By then we were growing up and would soon have our own homes, so it would be up to us to decide on whether or not to own any pets.

Newly married, my husband and I decided to adopt one of his mother’s dog’s puppies. Our dog was a small, fluffy, wimp of a pet.  Duke was part beagle, dachshund, and terrier.  A true mutt.  We took the largest, thinking it would be a mighty warrior. It took him months to learn how to bark and even then, it scared him. In a fight, he always lost or ran. He was hard to train, but he grew up alongside our three children, and they loved him.  He was with us for fourteen years.

We tried our luck with two other dogs to replace the family pet, but a tiny Peke died the day we brought her home, and the other, a Pug, had so much wrong with him from his blood line being overbred, that we had to return him and demand our money back.  I had never cried for a dog before, but the day my husband and I took Bubba back to the owners, I bawled so loudly, I scared everyone, including myself.

The kids and their dad went in search of another family dog. My only stipulation was to bring back a short-haired dog, one easy to groom and train.  

They came back with a golden-haired Pekinese, the runt of the litter.  My husband thought it would at least stay small and cute.  It had a pedigree and papers to prove it.  It grew to be over fifty pounds and lived more than fifteen years.  In that time the kids grew up and moved away from home. I got divorced and lived alone.  Our big boy developed cancer and the vet said I would know when to let him go. When the day came, I made an appointment with the vet, and called the kids to come say goodbye.  He perked up as each one came to visit but he became a young pup and got up to play when the youngest came to see him.  

My son slept over that night, but before midnight, he woke me and said his beloved pet couldn’t wait any longer.  My son found a clinic open twenty-four hours and while he held his pet and best friend, I drove us there. He stayed with his dear doggy until the end.

HoneyBunch and I do not own a dog.  I have asked and he has said no, definitely no. His pet stories are harder on the heart than mine. We have had so many loved pets in our lives and hesitate about going through that again.  I love cute puppies and kitties.  I enjoy watching the shenanigans of my granddogs, but we agree to protect our hearts and to be selfish with our time.

I won’t say we will never own another dog in our life time, but for now, we prefer to live with our memories.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Bunch of Losers


They straggle in one at a time from the parking lot.  Most wear the same clothes they wore last week and the week before that and so on.  Some carry their possessions in old, grocery bags; others carry theirs in tote bags. They study the circle of chairs and each person selects where they will park their things before stumbling toward the growing line that is forming in front of the receptionist. 
One who has already done so digs into her bag.  Out comes a plastic container.  It pops open and delicious aroma fills the air.  All are hungry; fasting is a must, so several heads turn toward her as she digs into her breakfast.
“Next,” says the receptionist, and a woman slowly steps up to the table. 
She hands over her membership card, offers up a small smile and an excuse, and steps onto the scale to weigh herself.
It’s Thursday morning.  My weekly Weight Watcher meeting is about to start. We always register and weigh in first.  For this it is best to wear the same or similar clothes every week because outfits that weigh more show up on the scale. Every ounce counts when one is trying to lose weight and those cute, skinny jeans can weigh as much as five pounds. Those of us who have places to go immediately after the meeting bring change of outfits in our totes or bags. On cold days, we come in layers, but all of those are shed before we line up.
We also come fasting for the same reason.  One cup of coffee, even one slice of dry toast, might show up on the scales.  The savvy enjoy their breakfast after the hated weigh in is over and done.
No one says a word if the scale goes up and not down, but the person being weighed knows.  Suddenly that extra margarita she had last Saturday or those two doughnuts she scarfed into her mouth when no one was looking have come back to haunt her.
The leader starts the meeting.  A theme is presented; a question asked.  We banter; we offer solutions.  We lift each other up. 

We are a bunch of losers, but losers of the best kind.  We are losing weight and helping each other lose even more.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Mystique of a Good Critique


I belong to a critique group of nine writers, some of us are published authors and some of us would like to be, but we all bring to the group different degrees of expertise.  Some of us have a good sense of story, some of us have a good eye for mechanics and grammar, some of us have a good command of human dynamics.  We have been together for several years, so we keep each other focused on critiques of our work and not on criticisms.  If that should happen, we delve deeper into what caused the emotion.  Only then can we offer suggestions to the writer.  

“This chapter went nowhere.”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I didn’t like the character.”

A criticism is a judgment, a disapproval, based on an emotion.  Stated in such a vague or negative manner, it comes across as a personal attack of the writer instead of focusing on what the person has written.  It faults the person and zooms in on flaws and weaknesses.  It condemns what is lacking on the page and it is a painful censure of the person’s skill. Its offensiveness puts the writer on the defensive, and both parties gain nothing from the “critique,” other than ill will. 

How does one turn a criticism into a critique?

First of all, neither is painless. 

A good critique is an evaluation, an analysis, based on evidence.  Stated in thoughtful and detailed concrete examples, it looks at things the author has done well and at those that might need to be clarified or revised. A good critique looks at structure, trends, patterns, strengths. It focuses on the written page and how the author crafted it.  It is not all sugar and sweetness; it is specific and helpful.  If something is awry with the story or the structure or the semantics, then a good critique partner can help the author to find a solution and allow for improvement.

Secondly, it takes practice.  Learn how to turn a criticism into a critique.

“This chapter went nowhere.”

Ask for clarification.  “What were you trying to do with this chapter?  Is this chapter or scene necessary?  What other way could you say that?  Does it help to look at the scene before this or the scene that comes after?”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I helped you here with a few examples but you need to double check a good manual and learn their use.” Recommend a good grammar manual.  “From now on, double check your commas before handing out critique pages.”    No one likes to work with someone who continues to do the same proofreading mistakes over and over again, and depends on the critique partner or group to edit and proofread for them every week.  After one or two reminders, I stop proofreading mistakes that the person has refused to fix or learn to fix.

“I didn’t like the character.”

Question the author about this character.  “Is this character integral to your story?  I didn’t like this character; is that how you wanted me to feel? If not, then what was I supposed to feel for him or her?  How could you delve into their character more to soften/change/depict them differently?”  


          There is no mystique about critiquing well.  It takes practice and a dose of kindness. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Nine


Down the gravel road away from my house, they take their chatter, laughter, and energy.
There is a food stain on my new table cloth, dirt on the carpet.  The sofa sectionals are askew, and a blue ball hides under a chair.
Half-full water bottles sit abandoned throughout my house. Someone ate the leftover rolls.  The roast is gone, so is the mac and cheese, but there will be lots of salad for Grandpa HoneyBunch and my dinner tomorrow.
My grandchildren came to visit and they brought their parents with them. My two sons, my daughter, and their spouses are their chauffeurs and they generously include us in the upbringing of The Nine.
The quiet is deafening.  The house sighs.  I need a nap, but first I sit and smile, remembering the day and missing them already. 
Watching The Nine grow reminds me of how quickly time escapes through our fingers.  It brings back memories of when my children, their parents, were little and their chatter, laughter, and energy filled my days. The memories are sweet. 
So when I watch The Nine run about, chatter, eat up all the food it took hours for me to prepare, I am grateful to be around to see life repeat itself.  It is comforting to see it all happening once again, the wonderful moments I once took for granted.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Get Married?

      
The headline said she was divorcing her husband because he voted for Trump.  Another said a woman shot her husband over a taco.  Some have tried to divorce their spouses before claiming their lottery tickets, but that never works.  The ex always finds out and sues and still gets his or her share of the dough.
          The truth is they married for the wrong reasons. They are divorcing because of them.
          Why get married, especially in this permissive day and age when no one raises an eyebrow if you don’t?
          I married HoneyBunch because I wanted to live with him, day in and day out. I wanted to sleep with him in the same bed and wake up with him the next morning.
          I married HB because I liked him and cared for him and I wanted to be around him, holding his hand, kissing him, and making his life easier for him. If he was sick, I wanted to warm him a can of soup and offer him medicines.  When he was well, I wanted to laugh at his corny jokes and shake my head at his stubborn opinions. 
          I married him because I wanted to be acknowledged as his legal partner.  I wanted the security and the legality that the home and the life we made together would still exist after one of us didn’t.
          I wanted him to be my permanent date in life, my dance partner, my plus one to parties and family dinners.
          We don’t always agree on politics or how we like our tacos, and if I ever win more than the usual dollar playing Lotto, I would most certainly share my winnings with him.  The love I feel for him is grounded in something deep that mere words cannot explain. It’s the same kind of love I feel for my children and grandchildren, my family, and my belief in God and country. It is as much a part of me as the blood that courses through my veins.
          So, the next time you read about people divorcing over Trump, tacos, or legal tender, they shouldn’t have married in the first place.  

          PS:  HB wants me to note that he is hardly ever sick.  He soldiers through colds and pores hydrogen peroxide on boo-boos, so his health is an unintended plus in our marriage. 

          

Monday, February 6, 2017

Loose Lips


          The politician’s wife walked next to her husband.  My eyes were drawn to her blue outfit. 
          “She’s lost weight since the convention.”  I look over at my husband and his eyebrows acknowledge my statement.
          It is inauguration day and we are watching a TV station that limits its commentary and editorializing. It lets its viewers think for themselves.
I press the remote and it instantly transfers to another TV station.  A tiny man perched on a stool sits center stage.  He peers at a paper clutched in his hand and reads a comment “someone else” has said about the woman in blue.  It is mean and derogatory, but the commentator is blameless.  He is only repeating what “someone else” has said.
I switch back to the station without the snide remarks and look at the politician’s wife.  Word has reached her long before the little man voiced them on national TV.  It is evident she has lost weight and changed her hair style and wardrobe in the last few months, but no one on this station comments on her looks, no one reads the mean comments of “someone else.”
SOMEONE says something. ANOTHER repeats it, but the blame is not on them.  It is on SOMEONE else. And so it goes.  The opinion, whether it is true or not, takes on a life of its own and it does not matter who it harms. 
It becomes gossip, mean, ugly, demeaning. 
I switch back one more time to the little man.  He could use a meal, maybe a doughnut or two.  He too is trying to fit in, to build up his own worth, but he does it at the expense of someone else’s discomfort.  


Monday, January 30, 2017

Here Comes Another Birthday

   Here comes another birthday.  At my age birthdays zoom by faster than mile markers on an interstate.  I’ve never been one to putter along at the speed limit, so before I know it, there’s another candle on the birthday cake.
          Should you feel the need to wish me a happy birthday, here are a few do’s and don’ts.
          One, do send cash or gift cards.  Any denomination will do.  I have a healthy respect for money, both my own and that of others, so any form of moolah is appreciated.
          Don’t waste your money on anything else, especially if it has to be dusted or worn.  I abhor dusting, so anything that requires display or upkeep is a no-no, likewise with clothes.  I do not wear pink, ruffles, or spandex.  I look ghastly in anything from the “autumn palette,” and should you buy anything in my correct size, I will be forced to deny you guessed it right.
          I also suffer from lactose intolerance and cannot eat bananas or anything with brown sugar.  My IBS makes me less pleasant than I used to be.  
          So, it is best to stick with a gift card.
          Two, do lie to me.  When you send your wishes, be advised lying to me about my age is not a sin but a kindness.  Feel free to shower me with blatant charity about my age.  Yours will be a heavenly reward.
          Tell me how youthful I look for someone in her “fifties.”  (Any younger and I will suspect sarcasm is your motivation.) Ask about my anti-aging regimen since I do not look a day older since the last time you saw me.  Practicing in front of a mirror before we meet is a good idea.
          Never, ever, use the word “spry” in your birthday wish to me.  It is a nasty, little, four-letter word I have come to despise.
          Now that I have stolen your good will and cheer, now that I have completely discouraged you from coming near me on or around my birthday, please know that I wasn’t always this touchy and crotchety.
This isn’t really who I am.
          It’s those infernal birthday candles that keep growing in number on top of my cakes. It’s that old lady with gray hair and wrinkles who looks back at me in the bathroom mirror who is to blame.   

          It’s that constant reminder that I zoomed past my youth and the golden years, and I am racing toward the end zone.