Monday, October 15, 2018

Post-Christmas Blues


As far back as I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. As soon as I could write, I’d pen my letter to Santa.  I’d start with all my merits – obedient, kind, star pupil – then, I would hit him with all the things I felt I deserved, my purchase order list of Christmas wants.
I’d direct him to the better buys, where he could get my toy at the best price, and if that didn’t work (I knew who the real Santa was), I’d leave catalogs lay about the house, opened to the page and with the item circled in ink pen. Sometimes, I’d sigh loudly and mention that the “Barbie I want is on page 362 of the Sears Catalog.”
In the twenty-two years I lived with my parents, I never once got anything I had asked from Santa.
I got stupid things like a pink teddy bear (pink?), a neon green outfit that enhanced my sallow skin (and I looked like I had jaundice), and a second-hand boy’s bike my parents found at a garage sale when I turned eighteen (I was past the bike stage and ready for a car).
Talk about suffering from the post-Christmas blues!
It didn’t get any better after I went out into the world. I was married to a husband who for the twenty-nine years we were together only saw as far as the end of his nose.
I learned a valuable lesson in the first half of my life, and I thank my parents and my ex-husband for it. 
Christmas isn’t about things.  It’s about acceptance, joy, and family. Christmas isn’t one day out of 365.  It’s with us all year long.
When I look at it from that perspective, I can look back at the pink teddy bear and the neon outfit and the second-hand boy’s bike and smile at the memories. I can look back at all those Christmases I spent alone (even when the ex was sitting in the chair next to me in the living room) while my husband spent it on the phone talking to “business partners” and realize his selfishness was his alone and not mine.
I do not have to depend on others or hype or things to celebrate Christmas. It starts within me.  Okay, before I end with the nanu-nanu song from the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, let me clarify that.
Christmas is my favorite holiday because it reminds me to love one another, but especially to love myself. I can do all the trappings – the tree, the decorations, the baking – but unless I love and accept myself with the same fervor as our Creator does, it is all artificial, and it becomes about things instead of what really matters – acceptance, joy, and family.  
If God (this is GOD we are talking about, people) thought me worthy, maybe I should do the same.



Monday, October 8, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: Nothing Stops Me from Celebrating Christmas

Raquel Martina Martinez: Nothing Stops Me from Celebrating Christmas: One Christmas, my youngest son packed his torn-down Volkswagen into our two-car garage. Its motor took up one-fourth of one parking space,...

Nothing Stops Me from Celebrating Christmas


One Christmas, my youngest son packed his torn-down Volkswagen into our two-car garage. Its motor took up one-fourth of one parking space, and the body took up the whole other half of the garage. To fit everything into the limited space, he had to push it all up against the storage boxes that lined the front wall.
As Christmas neared, I was able to get to the Christmas tree and the Nativity set I always used but not the boxes and boxes of decorations. I complained to both the husband and the son, but neither had the time nor the inclination to move all that metal so I could get to my things.
We were going to have Christmas that year with presents around a bare tree, so two days before Christmas, I gave up on them and went in search of more decorations.  Everything was half-priced but it was also picked over. I bought lights and odds and ends, just enough to cover the tree and call it a go.
Nothing was going to stop me from celebrating Christmas.
             *     *     *
My husband and I sat in the living room watching the weather station.  It was going to be a very cold Christmas. He had his phone on the arm of his sofa chair because he had made his business partner promise to call him every thirty minutes as she drove home to North Texas.
It was Christmas Eve, and instead of the two of us enjoying our empty nest, his thoughts were with someone else. When I asked him to shut off his phone and talk to me, he yelled at me, called me cruel and unfeeling, and I took it as my cue to be quiet, so I went to bed and left him to his phone calls.  
The next morning the kids came over to open presents and he handed me a professionally wrapped present.  It was the merino shawl I wanted.  I smiled and thanked him but then he said she had helped choose it. She had wrapped it for me.
           *     *     *
The divorce had taken six months and it came through on a Thursday, one week before Christmas.  I hadn’t felt very holiday-ish but now it was time to look forward and count my blessings.  
I dragged out the old Christmas tree and ALL the decorations.  My ex was very picky and always dictated how I dressed the tree, so this was my declaration of freedom.  I opened every box, placed every sphere on the dining table, and decided every single one was going on the tree (with the exception of anything that had belonged to him – bad juju and all that).
Once done, I celebrated by going outside and starting a huge, roaring fire of thanksgiving in the barbeque grill.  I celebrated with a glass of wine and a Pop Tart and I burned a very expensive Merino shawl in offering.
Merry Christmas to me.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: My Thoughts and Prayers

Raquel Martina Martinez: My Thoughts and Prayers: This phrase has come under scrutiny lately, called trite, overused, ineffective, insulting.  Yet, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in A...

Monday, October 1, 2018

My Thoughts and Prayers


This phrase has come under scrutiny lately, called trite, overused, ineffective, insulting. 
Yet, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017, there was little more most of us could do other than contribute money and goods, and offer our thoughts and prayers.
When the lone gunman killed all those innocent people while they attended Sunday services in November 2017, there was little most of us could do other than contribute money and goods, and offer our thoughts and prayers.
Very few of us are trained in rescue efforts or how to take down a shooter.  If we tried, we would slow the efforts of those who can, so we help in the best way we can.  We offer our sympathy and our prayers.
Instead of on our knees or offering sympathy, those who make fun demand instead that we should be on our feet, marching and demanding change. Their displaced anger blinds them to the fact that as human beings we need emotional and physical support as much as we need food, water, and safety/shelter.
My knees are not only on the ground, and my nose is not solely stuck inside my prayer book, I also keep abreast of the news.  I delve for facts.  I study the situation, what caused it, and what needs to be done.  And I work toward it.
When I offer my “thoughts,” they are not a vacant show of sympathy. I feel their sadness and trauma. I believe in empathy, agreement, consensus, human need.
When I offer my “prayers,” they do not come to an end with an “amen.” I believe in the power of prayer, spirituality and meditation, its comfort and direction.
People are not won over by bullying or denigration.  I will not be shamed into stopping from offering my thoughts and prayers. 
It takes all of us to offer the complete spectrum of needs that we require as humans.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: Five Things I Hate About Badly Written Books

Raquel Martina Martinez: Five Things I Hate About Badly Written Books: For years I taught literature to secondary students. Most were reluctant readers so I would teach the elements of a novel or the short s...

Five Things I Hate About Badly Written Books



For years I taught literature to secondary students. Most were reluctant readers so I would teach the elements of a novel or the short story by comparing them to popular TV shows or movies. A sit-com is a three-act play compacted into thirty minutes, so there is a premise, a situation to be solved, and the ending or resolution. A movie is its longer cousin, so we’d discuss a popular movie and separated it into its three acts. Once we did that, we turned our focus on the short story or novel we were reading in class.
We all agreed a good story is a well-written story.
Nothing irks me more than to spend my hard-earned money or waste my precious time on a book that fails to keep its promise to the consumer. If it’s a mystery, I expect to be surprised.  If it’s a romance, I expect to see it develop.  If it’s an adventure, I expect to raft the rapids. But please do not promise me a date and then take me for a boring ride around the neighborhood.
I hate books that are badly written, badly plotted, or copy other books badly. I hate triteness and cliché. I often wonder how they got published and what Golden Goose they promised the people who gave those books high reviews?
I hate books that ride on the waves created by others and offer nothing new to the genre.  Instead of one more dystopian novel where a wholesome, spunky seventeen-year-old saves the world, I’m waiting for the one where a septuagenarian is chosen as the lithest in her yoga class and shows the world courage has no best-if-used-by date.
I hate books whose authors refused to take a creative writing course on editing or on how Show Not Tell manifests itself on paper.  A published book should not read like a C-minus, end-of-the-year, high school Creative Writing project.
Lastly, I hate books whose storytelling is so poor no one cares about the character once we are done with the book. One never forgets a well-developed character. Did Rhett Butler ever find a woman who loved him like he deserved? Did Hagrid stay on at Hogwarts? Did Skeeter live to old age?  What would they be doing now?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: How to Raise a Child

Raquel Martina Martinez: How to Raise a Child: Several years ago, the mother of a newborn was suddenly overcome by the responsibility of raising a child, and she asked me how to go ab...

How to Raise a Child



Several years ago, the mother of a newborn was suddenly overcome by the responsibility of raising a child, and she asked me how to go about it.  
First off, I told her she was a good person and she would be a good mother, but a good compass is to think forward and decide what kind of grownup she wanted her baby to be one day.
If she wanted her child to be a kind adult, then train the child to be kind.  If she wanted her child to be intelligent, then teach the child to read and learn and be curious.  If she wanted her child to be polite, then teach the child manners. 
All of these traits have to be taught through example as well.
If she wanted her child to believe in God, then she had to go and take the child to church. She had to show and live a Godly life.  If she wanted her child not to use vulgar language or watch objectionable shows, then the mother could not prohibit the child and then use that language and watch those shows herself.
It’s the same with eating broccoli or learning to like the ends of a loaf of bread, exercising and learning how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  Respect goes both ways; what is respectful for the parent is respectful for the child. A parent cannot say one thing and then do the opposite.
I did warn her that each child is born with their own personality, and there might be contradictory natures, especially when the child hits the stinky teenaged years, but if the parent starts with the first diaper change, she might have a fighting chance of leading the child in the right direction. Never forget, you are the parent and the child expects you to parent.
I asked her if this was helpful, and she nodded, a smile on her face. She asked me how I got to be so wise. I tried to teach my three to be truthful, so I had to be truthful to this young mom – trial and error.  Mostly trial and a little error.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: The Insidious Abuse

Raquel Martina Martinez: The Insidious Abuse: There are moments in your life when you realize you’ve been walking around with your eyes half closed, seeing and feeling only what you wa...

The Insidious Abuse


There are moments in your life when you realize you’ve been walking around with your eyes half closed, seeing and feeling only what you want to admit to yourself.
Several years ago, I was sitting on my bed, watching a special on spousal physical and sexual abuse, feeling self-righteous that even though I had survived a terrible marriage, it wasn’t abusive.
Our divorce was taking twice as long to finalize than it should, but it gave me time to heal from the marriage and for the sadness to abate.   
As the show went to commercial, they announced the second half of the special would focus on emotional abuse, the one where the blows to the victim target the inside and not the skin.  
I considered turning the TV off; after all, it didn’t apply to me, but in my laziness, I didn’t get up in time. As I reached for the remote, it was like I had been sideswiped by an oncoming auto. It was like someone had turned the camera and was filming me.  With my finger on the off button, I realized they were talking about me.
I had survived a marriage rife with emotional abuse: the façade where the spouse charms the world and is the total opposite person at home with his wife, the need to subjugate a ‘strong’ woman and find her emotional weaknesses to whittle away at her self-esteem until she doubts her self-worth without him, the devious ways of confusing her reality and gaslighting her until she believes all their marital problems are her fault and his infidelities are his due.  
The list went on and on, and I started to bawl.  This was me.  
I escaped my hell only because he no longer needed me.  He had found someone else to “love.” Knowing it would only be a matter of time before she realized what he was truly like and send him packing, I prepared myself for the inevitable.  He would try me again; after all, I had believed his lies for twenty-nine years.
She did.  He tried me again, but by then, my eyes were wide open. I realized I wasn’t the bad person; he was, and he was not coming near me, ever again.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: To a Humble Man

Raquel Martina Martinez: To a Humble Man: There are times when you don’t have anything to say.   There’s this blank page in your brain that refuses to light up with words.   Th...

To a Humble Man



There are times when you don’t have anything to say.  There’s this blank page in your brain that refuses to light up with words. 
This week was one of those days.
I lost a cousin last week.  His family kept his illness to themselves until they could no longer hide it.  It was time to tell the family that his days were few and we should prepare ourselves for his departure.
He was one of those kind people who always asked if he could help, always offered a smile or a joke, always stood in the background opening doors and allowing others to take center stage.
We depended on his unpretentiousness to make us feel important. When compared to him, we are nothing more than pompous, self-important fools.  Without him, we have no audience, no revelry, no wind to our sails.
He blended into the background and we took him for granted.  It took his death to make us realize how much we needed him cheering us on from backstage. He accomplished more in his short life than a dozen of us together will accomplish in ours. 
He lived life to the fullest, loving his wife and family with a full heart. He touched so many lives with his unassuming ways.
And he never once feared death; he died with courage, preferring the Lord pick him and not his wife and children. 
It is true that the meek shall inherit the earth for meekness does not mean being afraid to live life or to stand up to bullies.  Meekness means humility, modesty, freedom from pride, gentleness, and assurance that one’s value does not have to be shouted from mountaintops but by making others realize theirs.  

Raquel Martina Martinez: Using Scene Cards to Plot a Story

Raquel Martina Martinez: Using Scene Cards to Plot a Story: Writing for publication isn’t as easy as one thinks.   Some of us are naturals at this, but nothing about my learning process has ever c...

Monday, August 27, 2018

Using Scene Cards to Plot a Story



Writing for publication isn’t as easy as one thinks.  Some of us are naturals at this, but nothing about my learning process has ever come easily, still I love to learn and write.
When someone suggested I write a blog, I did my homework.  It was similar to a weekly column I wrote for three years, so I thought it would force me to keep deadlines and exercise my “voice.”  It’s been mildly successful.
I wrote two children’s stories and they both placed in the top ten in a national contest, so that gave me some encouragement. I dusted off a book I wrote that a publishing house rejected ten years ago, so I spent a year fixing it and pitched it again; this time to an agent. She not only rejected it; she trashed it. It sits in my office licking its wounds. Two other books are going through their fourth or fifth rewrites. I’ve lost count.
Most of my writer friends write straight into their laptops, no notes, no outlines.  They let “their characters lead the way.” They’re called pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants. My muses are more like lazy teenagers. They get up late, nap on the sofa all day, and whine when asked to do chores. My muses need a kick in the pants.
I tried being a pantser with Book One and regret taking that advice. When I started on Book Two (I’m writing a trilogy), I realized I couldn’t build a story out of that awful mess.
I am not a pantser.  I am field dependent; I have to see the whole before I can write the parts.  In other words, I am a plotter.  I need an outline, not necessarily the kind college professors require but a personalized, 3-D, GPS version.
I’ve read several books on how to plot a novel and my favorite is Super Structure by James Scott Bell. His book is excellent, but here is one of the things I took away from his book that changed my life.
1.    Count out fifty 5X8 cards and come up with fifty possible scenes that could happen in your story.  Each card is a scene not a chapter.  It can be brief or elaborate. Push yourself to fill all fifty cards.
2.    If you exhaust all the possible scenes but still have cards to fill, push yourself to do more.  Create a scene card for each of the following:
·      Open a dictionary to a random page and select one noun.  Create a possible scene using that noun as inspiration.
·      Come up with roadblocks or possible conflicts your protagonist might encounter.
·      Come up with “what if” scenes. The more ‘what iffy,’ the better.
·      Write the scenes introducing your important characters.
·      Take two existing scene cards and create a scene that segues one into the other.
·      Choose two characters and create a scene between those two, but remember it must move the plot forward.
·      Write a scene about what one of the secondary characters has been doing while the main characters were on center stage
·      Make sure you have scene cards for all the important plot points, like The Mirror Moment, or The Pet the Dog Scene, The Q Factor Scene (you’ll have to refer to his book for these, or you might be able to google it.)
3.    After you have exhausted all possible scenes, organize them by Acts and sequence. Sometimes this shows you where you might need to add a scene.
4.    One thing I like to do is to add a Johari Window on the back of scene cards where I introduce characters. I addressed that in a different blog, but I use the Johari Window to create in-depth character studies of each of my important characters.  It helps me stay true to their motivation.
When Book Two looked like it was headed in the same wrong direction as Book One, I went back and deconstructed Book One chapter by chapter and then sat down and created my fifty scene cards.  It helped me reorder my chapters, get rid of scenes that made no sense and come up with healthier scenes that should have happened.  It showed weak and strong chapters; some had to go but several were strong enough to stay. I found discrepancies and scenes so trite they made me wince. Since Book One is part of a trilogy, it also helped me strengthen characters who would later take center stage in Books Two and Three.
I envy those who can write straight into their laptops.  That isn’t me.  I’ve learned a lot in the past eight years about writing and how my brain creates stories, so none of this time has been wasted.  One day, I might go back to the book that has been rejected twice in its lifetime and use this method to restructure it, but for now, I am letting it heal while I work on Book Two and plan out Book Three.  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: Those Who Can’t Teach

Raquel Martina Martinez: Those Who Can’t Teach: “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches .”  (George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman) Thanks, Bernard. What exactly were you saying with...

Those Who Can’t Teach


“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”  (George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman)
Thanks, Bernard. What exactly were you saying with that? That anyone not good enough for any other job or profession, can always turn to the profession of teaching? If one cannot function in the real world, the teaching profession is always so dire for help, it will take all and any rejects?
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” (Woody Allen, Annie Hall)
Those who can’t what? Get a job anywhere else? Cannot face a job that demands long hours? Demands a persistent attitude working with a resistant client? Does not want to work under a stressful deadline?
Let’s try teaching!  They work short hours, have weekends and summers off, paid holidays.  They teach kids.  How hard can that be? Whee! 
Well, let me tell you, Bernie and Woody, teaching is a PROFESSION, one that demands more than any other job.  That 8 to 5, paid summers and holidays myth is a lie, and your cutesy, funny quote is an insult to those who teach.
A teacher has to love the act of learning so much they have to share that love of learning with others.  They know their subject matter so well, they can take it apart into its basic components and deliver it with finesse. Teachers keep a mental rolodex in their brains that almost instantly matches learning methods and materials to each student, so when a child “doesn’t get it” in one lesson, the teacher expertly tries it another way.
A teacher looks at each student as a client, a sometimes resistant, petulant, and angry client, but a client nonetheless. A teacher doesn’t have to love each student who walks into the classroom, but they have to like and care for the children who they serve.
A teacher works under a contract, one that demands certain outcomes for a set amount of pay, disregarding the long hours it takes for the teacher to deliver. They work evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers on their own nickel. These hours are not paid. Any other profession can bill for the time spent outside the time clock; teachers can’t. Any other profession can decline to serve certain clients; teachers can’t.  A recalcitrant student, an angry, demanding parent, a harsh public, the insulting myth that anyone can be a teacher – all of this makes it hard to choose the profession of teaching as a career.   
And those who can’t put up with all of these demands, can’t teach.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Raquel Martina Martinez: Leftovers

Raquel Martina Martinez: Leftovers: HoneyBunch and I come from families who do not believe in throwing away  food, ergo, The Leftover is sacred in our homes. Any little sc...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Leftovers


HoneyBunch and I come from families who do not believe in throwing away food, ergo, The Leftover is sacred in our homes.
Any little scrap of food goes into plastic containers with tight fitting lids or gets wrapped in plastic with the same reverence as an Egyptian mummy. It shows up at the next meal either in its original form or under a clever disguise.  Handfuls of leftover vegetables get thrown into stews or soups; old fries get scrambled into eggs, and though not much can be done for a leftover enchilada, smothering it with soupy beans can make it edible.
When my own kids were young, I “forced” a weekly clean-out-the-refrigerator buffet on them but gave them fair warning.  They knew when I called them to the table, they’d better hurry because it was first come, first served. The last one to the table ended up making do with The Leftover Leftover, usually something doubly unrecognizable and inedible.
HB is really big on not wasting food, but I do set limits.  In its original state, if it came out of a can, the frozen section of the grocery store or a drive-through take out, it never even makes it to the refrigerator. It is not worthy of being labeled The Leftover since I consider such food has been handled enough in its lifetime.  It goes straight into the trash can. If it is homemade from scratch, it can make it as far as a third curtain call before it goes into the trash can, but if it changes color, emits odor, or winks at me, it goes into the trash can immediately.
I am all for not wasting food, but I do have standards.
I WILL NOT give myself food poisoning and all the discomforts that entails over neon-colored ham slices, petrified pizza, or a recycled pork chop.


Monday, August 6, 2018

My Favorite Twelve Verses From Bible Study

One year ago, I was finishing a year’s study of the Holy Bible.  Month after month, we trekked our way from Old to New Testament.
I underlined one favorite verse in each chapter as I worked my way through each book, and from those verses, I chose the following twelve as my most favorite, one for each month.
Because of this study, I developed a better understanding of God’s connection and the promise he made to his people.
You probably have your own favorites but here are mine.  
# 1. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.  The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.  Exodus 15: 2-3
#2. The Lord bless you and keep you.” Numbers 6:24
#3. You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all this is in them.  To all of the them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you.  Nehemiah 9:6
#4. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wonderous deeds.  So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me. Psalm 71:17-18
#5. Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.  Psalm 91: 14-15
#6. I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121: 1-2
#7. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139: 13b
#8. For a child has been born to us, a son given to us . . . and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
 #9. Now the end is upon us, I will let lose my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, I will punish you for all your abominations.  Ezekiel 7:3
#10. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy; your body is full of darkness. Luke 11:34
#11. I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6
#12. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 2Timothy 1: 7





Monday, July 30, 2018

The Three Widows by RM Martinez


All characters and events in this story are entirely fictional.

The three widows first met during senior aerobics.  They became good friends and were soon making plans to get together during the week.
The aging women went out to lunch, had their nails and hair done, and often found other things to do to pass the time.  They called them “outings,” and it pleased their grown children. It freed them from having to entertain their mothers.  When the three friends offered to take each other to doctor appointments as well, the children, especially their spouses, were even more delighted.
One day the youngest of the three, the one with emphysema from breathing in years of her late husband’s cigarette smoke, was called in to the police station for questioning. She had a real estate license so her fingerprints were on record with the state. On a random search, her thumbprint matched one found on a bat, the weapon at a gruesome murder scene.
When questioned about her whereabouts on the day of his death, she claimed two alibis, so her friends were also called in to the police station.  The oldest limped in with the help of her cane.  A stroke had left her with limited use of her right leg.  The middle-aged widow seemed the healthiest, the spryest. She burst into the station as if she owned the place and hurried over to the youngest to check the level of oxygen in her mobile tank.
The police questioned each one separately about their whereabouts at the time of the murder, but it all came to a stop when the middle one rummaged through her purse. She looked up through her thick bifocals and smiled at the female detective. Among all the trash at the bottom of her bag, she retrieved a tattered movie theater ticket. It had the date and time stamped on it along with some questionable chocolate smudges. The three were at the movies that day, she said.
But what about the bat?  The thumbprint?
The youngest had donated a bunch of old toys recently to Goodwill. She recalled several old bats that once belonged to her sons among the boxes of things.
Their stories all matched, word for word, so as the detectives studied the three elderly women through the one-way mirror, they agreed there was no way these feeble women could have overpowered a young man, six foot tall and muscular.  The three old widows were released to their children, and as they drove their sweet mothers home, they commented, incensed that anyone would even consider their dear mothers involved in the heinous death of a repeat sex offender.
 It wasn’t until the following Monday that the three widows ventured out of their houses again.  They showed up at the gym with plenty of time to warm up before their aerobics class.
“Don’t you ever forget your surgical gloves again.”  The oldest whispered into the youngest’s ear in case the gym was bugged. “You almost blew our covers.”  She turned to the middle-aged one. “Thank goodness, you never empty that garbage bag of a purse of yours.  It saved our skins.”
“I guess we better cool our outings for a while.” The middle-aged one replied.
“But the next one on our list is that lawyer who got acquitted for killing his wife for her money.” The youngest said. “The one who is already shacking up with the hussy who used to be his wife’s hospice nurse.”
“Give it time.  We have to be extra careful now that we've been fingered. Arrogance will be his undoing, and then we will go through with his outing.” The oldest ran an osteoarthritic finger across her throat. “Evil never sleeps and neither do we.”






Monday, July 23, 2018

The Cousins/Los Primos



July 23, 2018
          The idea began five months ago at my mother’s funeral.  Cousins from both sides of the family talked about getting together at a party of our choosing, instead of waiting for a death or a wedding to bring us together again.  We needed time to get to know each other; we needed time to share family history and stories.   
Only one uncle and one aunt remain of my mother’s entire generation, so it was up to us The Cousins (Los Primos) to tend to the family tree. Our parents and grandparents were brothers and sisters to each other, and we the cousins had once also been close, childhood friends, but marriages, careers, and travels had taken us down different paths. It took a small group of The Cousins (Los Primos) from my mother’s side of the family to take on the formidable task of hosting a matriarchal family reunion on short notice, but it was one amazing afternoon.  
We have an astounding history; we have memorable stories, and by sharing them with each other, we hope to inspire future generations.  
Because my mother’s family history was so important to her, I looked up what I could about her heritage, and I noticed a pattern of strong women:
-       a great-great-grandmother who immigrated husbandless with her children to Texas from the state of San Luis Potosi in Mexico,
-       a great-grandmother left penniless to raise four young teenagers during a time when widowed women were easily cheated out of their fortunes,
-       a grandmother who raised her five children alone during the Great Depression and World War II while her husband went off to eke a living as a migrant worker for months at a time,
-       and my mother who dropped out of school after the eighth grade to help her mother support her younger brothers and sisters.
There is a lot to be added to this history and to these stories, but the reunion has provided me with additional names and dates. There is a lot that needs to be revised. Genealogical records sometimes misspell or transpose names. They sometimes do not provide correct birthdates and dates of death. Hopefully, the information gathered at the reunion of Los Primos will help me fill in the blanks and send me in search for more information.
Most importantly of all will be the tribute to our antepasados and the stories of the grandmothers and their families, inspiring the future generations in our family to bravely strive for more. 
         

Monday, July 16, 2018

So I Prayed



          Walking into my fourth-grade classroom, the teacher announced a pop quiz over the history chapter she assigned for homework, the one I didn’t have time to read, because I had math homework, and science, and spelling words, so . . . I prayed and promised all kinds of things, if only He would help me get through the pop quiz without failing.
          My mom interrogated my baby sister about the pearl necklace she found in her jewelry box.  I was next, so . . . I prayed for forgiveness, not because I was going to confess my guilt since I was the one who played with it when it broke into beads, but because I was going to lie and weasel my way out of a spanking. By some miracle, my baby sister got blamed, no one got spanked, and I still kept my promise to be extra nice to her for a whole week.
          Fast forward a few years.
          I hate thunderstorms, heights, and scary movies.  They give me nightmares, so I pray and He sees me through my fears. Prayer also got me through the years of depression and grief when my first marriage ended and I considered suicide.    
          Every morning, I stood by each student desk in my classroom and prayed for the child who would sit in that chair. I prayed for them as children and for them as students.    
          I prayed every day on my way to work and on my way home for my own children, and especially for my youngest son while he was off being a Marine serving his country.
          I still pray first thing in the morning, and I pray again the moment I lay my head on my pillow at night. 
          Best of all, I prayed for HoneyBunch.  After my divorce, I was prepared to live the rest of my life as a single person. I was grateful for all my blessings, but if there was someone else “out there” for me, maybe He could send him my way. And He did.
          So, yes, I pray.  It is as natural to me as breathing or thinking or being. It gets me through the day.         

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Mother of a United States Soldier




My paternal grandmother saw three of her four sons sign up and go off to fight in World War II.  My maternal grandmother saw all three of her precious sons drafted in the early 1950’s during the Korean War.  Several of my male cousins, including my older brother, served and some died in the Vietnam war.  Those who came home were changed forever, but their parents stood proud, supportive of their sons’ service.
When the draft ended in January of 1973, many mothers (and fathers) rested easy; their sons could choose to serve or not.  Even with that freedom, some of my family, both women and men, have joined the US service and made it their careers.  We are proud of their patriotism and selflessness.
My youngest joined the Marines during his senior year and in June of 1999, just weeks after graduating from high school, he went off to boot camp.
He made a studied decision and though I cried about it, when it came time to drive him to the drop off point, he deserved my respect and loyalty.  He was a grown man and would always have my undying love.
From that day forward, I “had his six.”
He was deployed in 2001, 2003, and 2010, and with each deployment I noticed increased differences in him, so when someone disrespects the flag, trashes this country, and encourages divisiveness, my patriotism comes to the fore.  There are those who do not understand the immense sacrifice our military gives to create and keep this country safe.
For every problem, every injustice, every failing we see in this country, let’s work toward solutions and honor the sacrifice millions have made to ensure the survival of this country.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Ode to the Simple Sentence



          The marvelous sentence seems so simple a preschooler can string one together without thinking; yet, it’s amazingly complex in its construction.
          A composite of numerous careful, deliberate, and creative decisions, its basic construction can be taught easily; but only a dedicated wordsmith can transform it into a memorable work of artistry.
          Like any other aspect of language learning, we listen and observe before venturing to imitate and form a sentence.  We learn to speak by speaking; we learn to write a sentence by writing. 
But some writers venture farther; they create.
          Like their fellow artists - musicians and painters -, the writer looks at each single word like a beat on a sheet of music or a stroke of the brush on canvas. Each word is deliberate; every punctuation mark is a nuance filled with meaning.
          What needs to be altered? Cut? Revised? Expanded?
          The writer artfully and courageously choreographs each sentence. Clarity and intention, visual and rhythmic appeal, syntax and grammar rules – all color the canvas for innovation and uniqueness.
          The simple sentence becomes an extraordinary and memorable work of art.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Bookmarks



When I was in Catholic elementary school, the nuns gave us holy cards as presents or rewards.  A holy card is smaller than a playing card.  It usually has a picture on one side of the Holy Family, a saint, or an angel; and is either blank or has a verse or prayer on the other side.  One is supposed to keep it near to remind the believer to pray or trust in the faith. By the time I finished the 8th grade, I had acquired a stack of these. I still own some from those days, and I use them as bookmarks in my Bible and my books of devotions. In high school and college, I used a holy card as a bookmark in the textbooks of my most difficult classes.
When I taught school, my specialty was Remedial Reading, English, and ESL, all subjects that required the students to read on a daily basis in my classroom.  Since I could not hand out holy cards in a public school, I gave the students bookmarks I bought at school supply stores.  If money was tight, I assigned a classroom contest where the students designed bookmarks. I chose the top best and ran them off, cut them up, and distributed them.  The designers loved seeing their name printed at the bottom of the bookmarks, especially if they found me using one of theirs for personal use. 
I also recycled old playing cards and made these “bookmarks” available next to the library stacks in my classroom.  I used Uno, Old Maid, Go Fish, and the old alphabet and numbers cards from my children’s pre-school days. The kids got a kick out of this and my supply was often depleted. When I taught high school, I offered the students old Bicycle Playing Cards that had grown unusable from HoneyBunch and his family’s avid bridge games.
What can I say?  I love to read and the bookmark is an important accessory. I am tickled when someone sneaks a pretty keeper into a birthday card or on Mother’s Day.  Some in my collection are elegant beauties from foreign places; others are miniature works of art, but I do not want for bookmarks.  I love using old tickets from Broadway plays or concerts I’ve enjoyed. I have also used parking lot receipts, old airplane tickets, and, I confess, I have availed myself of colorful cardboard paint swatches one gets in the paint department.
The bookmark, like the holy card, is a marker in space and time.  A respite where we take a moment to breathe, get on with aspects of life that need attention, and come back to a warm welcome.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Note to Self: How to Write Gooder



I belong to a writers’ critique group that meets once a week. I’ve been at it now for seven years, but the group has been around for twenty. Amazing, isn’t it?
We swap pages and give each other feedback on our writing.  Some of us are published, but all of us are writers. I have learned more from being a member of this group than from any class I have ever taken on the subject of being a published writer.
Here is what I have learned (the hard way) that might help other aspiring writers.
1.    Get into the practice of formatting your manuscript pages in a professional manner. Type it in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and double space it with a one-inch margin all around. Indent your paragraphs. Learn to type in a header with your name and the title of the manuscript, and number your pages.

2.     Study how to use all punctuation correctly, especially the use of the semicolon and the quotation marks. Become an expert at it (or as near an expert as you can be.)

3.    Learn to discern the different points of view (first, second, third), and if you move from one to the other, how to do it correctly.

4.    Learn to discern the use of verb tense (past and present, for example), and if you jump from one to the other, how to do it effectively.

5.    Study sentence boundaries. Look at where each sentence starts and where it ends, and be able to identify independent clauses, dependent clauses, run-ons, comma splices, etc. Learn how to punctuate them and use them well.

6.    Make sure objects (including characters) do not appear suddenly when they were not there in the previous paragraph or scene.  A knife should not show in a character’s hand suddenly, or a character should not be standing when he was kneeling a moment ago, unless you go back and write the action or the prop into the story previously.
7.    Go back and search for passive verbs and rewrite the sentences so you remove most of them.

8.    Read through for adverbs and rewrite the passage with descriptive verbs or phrases instead of limiting it to an adverb.

9.    Learn to describe emotions with physical characteristics or actions instead of using adjectives.

10. The most important tip of all is to learn how to keep the exciting promise you offered your reader. Each scene, each chapter, must move the story forward. If it doesn’t, then it is not necessary, and you will lose your reader.  Each scene or chapter must keep the reader engaged, and if it doesn’t, then it needs to be removed or rewritten so that it does.