Thursday, May 31, 2012

For Writers

Inspiration vs. Pepperoni Pizza

“That is the way with art, when it is not acquired but born to you: you start in to make some simple little thing, not suspecting that your genius is beginning to work and swell and strain in secret, and all of a sudden there is a convulsion and you fetch out something astonishing. This is called inspiration.”  Mark Twain

You’ve had this happen. A television commercial comes on and the woman encouraging you to buy the greatest diet plan of all time is the very model of what you want to be; slim, trim, energetic and altogether lovely. She sweeps her hand over her before and after pictures and the contrast blows you away. And there’s an unbelievable limited time offer besides. You sit up in your chair as something begins to work and swell and strain in secret; you could be like that – again. Sure, you’re middle-aged, but so what? And the time to act is Now! Because this deal may not come again.

So right then and there you vow to be better. You’ll buy this diet plan and get yourself into a fighting weight by next spring or your birthday or . . . well, fill in the blank. You’re inspired and motivated to a ridiculous degree – until – your best friend bounces through the front door with a hot pepperoni pizza and a bottle of your favorite wine. Then, from the dizzying heights of raw emotion and courage, you come crashing down to earth as you’re confronted with the reality of a friend and a yummy pizza. I’ll bet this even happened to Mark Twain.

Many writers will attest to the fickleness of inspiration. You’ve got it one minute and it’s gone with the cheese and the sauce the next. Is there any way to capture and keep it? Um – no. But you can build up your defenses to fight off the giant pepperoni pizza of de-inspiration when it sneaks up behind to rob and plunder. Here’s a ploy or two that may help.

  1. Be on the lookout – Inspiration can come upon you by stealth. Sometimes you’re acting in a highly inspired way without realizing it. Three days a week I watch a little girl for her schoolteacher mother. To keep us both from being bored comatose, I have to come up with inspired play at every turn – like with bed pillows. One afternoon, while playing school, I asked little girl to tell me some of the things we use pillows for. She said one thing and I countered. We fed off each other until the subject was exhausted. Pillow fights, doll bed, a soft chair, wall for a fort – on and on we went, laughing all the way. Next we did blankets and the dawn came slowly; could I get a series of picture books out of this spontaneous play? Why, there were myriad inanimate objects to choose from! It was a cosmic moment.
  2. Forget the fame, seize the fortune – Poverty can be a great, great motivator. If the numbers in your bank account are huddling together for warmth, you must write. That’s what Charles Dickens did. Think about it. Maybe Mr. D wasn’t in the thrall of the muse the whole time he wrote Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, but he did it anyway. The man had ten children to support, after all. He got on with the job until the job paid the bills. Write until you sell something and that selling will keep inspiration and motivation trotting along beside you.
  3. Stare out the window – Good grief, what kind of advice is this? I read it once and do it often. Why? Because it relaxes the mind, letting all the good stuff step forward. Soon your hands will drift to the keyboard as a sudden convulsion fetches out something astonishing. It’s hard to believe, I know, but inspiration and motivation come right through the glass as you stare. Try it.

These three things are a writer’s Trinity of Triumph, beating back defeat whenever they’re tried. Of course there are days when there are no pillows, lack of money or clean windows to look out of. But, come on, how often does that happen all in one day?  And if your friend pops in the door next week with a hot pepperoni pizza, thank her, take a slice for later and send her packing. Just say you and Mr. D are looking out the window trying to figure out how your series about household objects is going to thrill children and boost your bank account. Inspiration wins.

More inspiring famous author quotes:

“I write to escape ... to escape poverty.” Edgar Rice Burroughs

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.” W. Somerset Maugham

“It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”  Erle Stanley Gardner

“All writing is creating or spinning dreams for other people so they won't have to bother doing it themselves.” Beth Henley
“Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  Harper Lee

"You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written.  And then, if it's going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children."  Madeleine L'Engle

Note: Written for the ICL newsletter in 2011

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul                                  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Have you ever been bebopping down the aisles at the grocery minding your own business and suddenly you feel like you’re being followed? But you turn around to look and realize it’s just your own big behind? Ugh. Okay, you know you’ve packed a few onto the old caboose, but holidays, birthday parties and special celebrations, weekend getaways – they seem to crop up every week and it’s tough to deprive yourself of the abundant and yummy food that goes along. Then one day it hits home and you know – it’s time – to do something.

My hair and makeup were done and I’d picked out the skirt and top for church that morning. I sat on the edge of the bed control top pantyhose in hand. As I rolled them onto my legs I had to twist and turn a bit, but I managed to get them up. Hmmm – I thought – this waistband is a little stretched. The big toe on my right foot was bent up slightly, too, but I stood,  re-adjusted a bit and felt all snugged in. Good. Off I went.

I hopped out of the car in the church parking lot and had to do a little hitch up. I slid my hand between my skirt and top and tugged. There – should be good for the next few hours. I ignored the slight burning sensation where the pantyhose met between my thighs and went to choir practice hoping no sparks would fly from the friction. We didn’t need That kind of fire at the service.

I can’t remember what our choir anthem was, but it included some four measure phrases. This required breath control and when I filled the old diaphram I felt my control tops cry out. I was momentarily alarmed, but the waistband held. Then just before the service I did another little  hitch up. Okay, now. That should do it. I went to find my pew.

In the Lutheran church there’s a lot of standing, sitting, and kneeling during the service. We do the standard stand to praise, sit to learn and kneel to pray thing. Well, around about communion time ol’ Chubs here reached the pinnacle of her struggle with the pantyhose. I rose from my pew, waited in the aisle, walked to the altar rail and kneeled. Sacrament received, I stood to return to my pew and about halfway there I felt that stinkin’ waistband just give up on me.

With each step back up the side aisle I felt it roll, and roll and roll – when sorrows like sea billows roll – from the old hymn bipped through my head. Down went my taupe pantyhose, relentlessly, over my lumpy hips and heading for the  floor. Eeek! I tried to keep the panic off my face. How could I do a hitch right here in front of God and everybody? I tried to control my walk so the rotten L’eggs would stop rolling but the sea billows were winning. I walked past my pew, my eye on the double doors at the back. With as much dignity as I could muster I waddled straight into the narthex and down the stairs to the ladies room. By then they were almost at my knees and in their death throes.

I couldn’t help the giggles as I removed the poor taupe colored traitors right there in the stall. With a resigned sigh I returned for the remainder of the service bare legged. The poor pantyhose had only just lived through the challenge of a lifetime and were balled up in my handbag. I was witness to their last gasp; a huge sigh of relief.  

My ‘one day’ had come and shortly thereafter I began my diet (see Susan's Extras). I lost twenty two pounds and have kept most of it off these past two years.

Oh - and another thought ladies. You must rely on Jesus for your salvation because even the best pantyhose will eventually let you down! Let mine be a cautionary tale.

Image: AKARAKINGDOMS                       Free Digital Photos

Monday, May 28, 2012

Guest Post - Hubby

The Ten Minute Project
It was Thursday and I didn’t have anything that couldn’t  be held up by couple of hours, so when my wife invited me to accompany her on a non-clothes shopping trip it meant a beast of burden was needed. The faucet in the kitchen leaked a bit and the last rime I was at Lowes I was unable to decide  which of the hundred rebuild kits was the right one, so  I reached under the sink and shut off the hot and cold water at the shutoff valves.  I removed the offending innards of the faucet and took them to compare to those available at Lowes.  After a bit of study I found what I thought be the right part. We picked up some other items and checked out.
After the food shopping we headed home.  I replaced the parts in the faucet.  The second time the faucet even turned in the correct direction.  We had lunch and all was well.  As we were finishing lunch a friend showed up with a busted computer.  I finished up the faucet job and turned the valves on and went to attack the computer.
A few hours later after bringing in some firewood for the furnace I came in the kitchen to find my wife mopping and cleaning under the sink.  With a very disgusted tone of voice she said  “I guess you know.”
My snappy response was  “know what?”  I checked my work on the faucet and it appeared OK. A little further inspection showed that the shutoff valve I had installed thirty years ago was leaking.  Turning the valve off stopped the bleeding.  I checked my box of excess plumbing parts and found another valve, things are looking up.
I collected the Teflon tape from the barn, the propane torch, several wrenches and remarked to life companion (after 45 years I guess it probably will last a lifetime) “something is going to go wrong. Everything I looked for was in the first place I looked.”
After some grunting and groaning and special magic words I learned in the Seabees the old valve came off and the copper tubing was undamaged. But the valve from the excess parts was not the correct size. Off the hardware store before it closed. 
The new valve went in like it was supposed to, until I went to attach the tube to the faucet; the tube would not go into the valve enough for the compression bushing to allow the nut to grip the threads.  After some further magic words I determined the old valve allowed the tubing to go into it further.  A trip to the barn to get the hand grinder and dinner was ready.  A wee dram of Turkey before dinner and some spaghetti and I’d be at it again.
As luck would have it the youngest son showed up with his kids and dogs just as dinner was over.  I regaled him with the details of the ten minute project and he produced his grinder from his truck that had a cutting wheel instead of a grindstone and nipped off the offending 1/16th inch of tubing and in ten minutes the project really was done.  The clock read just after 7PM not bad for a ten minute project that started before noon.

PS: I really am fortunate to have a Mr. Fix It / Farmer for a "life partner" in spite of my occasional snippiness. How about a nice BLT on rye for lunch, Sweetie? 

Image: Idea Go                                    

Friday, May 25, 2012

We Honor and Remember

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966.

World War I, sometimes called The Great War and deemed the war to end all wars, was the reason for the following poem.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 
Our celebrations now include barbeques, sales all over the place, ceremonies at graveside, and parades. On this holiday we honor those who lost their lives in all wars and not our veterans, still living. For veterans we have Veteran's Day in November. I hope you all have a lovely weekend and, if members of your family have fallen in battle, that you honor and remember their sacrifice.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Feeding Crows

My friends know of my affinity for feeding crows. We have a birdbath out back and most mornings I’ll throw the bits and pieces of our leftover lunches and suppers right beneath it for my birdies. I try to keep the birdbath clean and filled, too, making a nice little haven for my friends.  It was not really my intention, however, to feed squirrels. That’s right – they did not get the memo. Somebody in my office really screwed that one up.

But the situation has led to some comical confrontations and I’m confessing here that I do the Lady Bountiful thing partly because of the ‘show’. And let me tell you how that has evolved.

At first the crows were highly intimidated by the squirrels that aggressively gobbled up the cracker, bread and cookie crumbs I offered. I mean, BAM! Get outta my way! was the message to Mr. and Mrs. Crow from the squirrely girls. One sidelong scowl from a squirrel and the crows hopped back and then further back – into the trees sometimes. What was left when the squirrels got done, the crows came in and cleaned up.

Highly entertaining to anyone looking out on the scene from the upstairs bedroom window.

But I’ve been throwing the crumbs out for years now and have noticed, of late, a change. The squirrels are relenting a little and the crows are a bit less intimidated. At this very moment a lone crow is cleaning up this morning’s soda cracker crumbs. The other crows and the squirrels have had their fill, I guess. There was certainly enough for all of them and perhaps that has somehow registered in their little critter brains. Maybe they don't mind each other so much when no fear of starvation is at hand. 

Oh, there’s still jockeying for the best position under the feeder. And when I smear a little bacon fat on the stale heel of my homemade bread it's WAR out there. But frequently the crows and the squirrels gobble and peck side by side. And as much as I enjoyed the show when it was more contentious, this new development pleases me, too.

A few days ago a little red cardinal landed under the feeder - a bird of another color. Is a new era is about to unfold? I'll keep you posted.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Incidental Conversations

We  retreated there – Camp of the Woods in Speculator, New York – for a purpose, somewhat undefined, but much anticipated. Yes, there was a program, well thought out and welcome. But the little things that happened on the side were the ones I loved. For instance.

The big room just off the kitchen, loaded with sofas, chairs, lamps, was dim and quiet except for Jackie. She waved me over as I came in looking for a place to keep reading Terra Magica, a story Phyllis is working on and graciously allowed me a peek at.

“I want to borrow this book,” Jackie said, tapping her finger on my copy of Dinesh D’Sousa’s, Life After Death – the Evidence. I'd brought it along in case anyone was interested. So of course I had to sit beside her to discuss it. Our conversation drifted to the strange and wonderful experiences we’d each had with the dying. Jackie told me about knowing her late husband, Ken, is at her shoulder and I told of my Mom speaking with an unseen helper at the moment of her death.

Then Donna showed up. She enthused about her little grandson’s seeming ability to speak with his late grandpa – Donna’s husband.

Then Karen showed up. She brought to remembrance the time she and I visited a man mere hours from death and how reluctant he seemed to let go.   

Incidental conversations like these are the best. Nothing scripted but – oh – do we learn about our sisters. Christi and Dawn posed for me in this picture taken during a hike.  

At the kitchen table, so dense with snack food we could barely see the top, Barbara told a ‘true angel story.’ Jackie had gone to visit Barbara after knee surgery but found her fast asleep in her hospital bed. She sat quietly – watching. Though many would have jotted a quick note and left, ‘the angel’ waited. Good thing, too. When Barbara woke up Jackie noticed her inability to speak properly and called for help. Barbara had had a stroke.

This is not tough slogging, these moments of personal conversation. This is part of why we go on retreat. We bring along games and snacks, our hearts and our minds. We sing What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine and mean it because we  know whose everlasting arms we're leaning on.

We crack jokes, try out the ‘bed of nails’ Nancie brought, seek out quiet corners for nurturing talks with a friend – old or new – and hike through brush and flowers to look at waterfalls. We read Bible verses in our study circle expounding and exploring. We take extra portions of the food in the dining hall because it’s so darned good. We make charming bookmarks or note cards for our ‘weekend friend’ using the vast array of craft supplies Beverly brought.

And in the end, this is what we’ve done.

The grief  we’ve shared becomes half the grief and gobbled up along with the popcorn, M&M’s and trail mix that covered the dining room table.

The joys we’ve shared are twice the joy and evidenced in the words of love, friendship and praise written on the rocks we left near the altar.

Yeah - we had to go back home. But we did so, renewed, refreshed and rejoicing.

 Now who wouldn’t love that?

Incidently - We're going again next year - wanna come?

Monday, May 21, 2012

For Writers

A few mornings ago I awoke with the beginnings of an essay whirling around in my sleep-fogged brain. The premise of the essay, miracles, came from a conversation I’d had with some friends a few days earlier and at the time I couldn’t articulate my true beliefs on the subject. But now, feeling zapped from on high, I dashed from my bed, hurried to the computer, coffee in hand, and tapped a few paragraphs out. Later when I re-read those paragraphs it hit me – they were BORING.

Deep down I knew that any publication I might want to sub this to would expect a certain tone – conversational, friendly, informal or inspiring; in fact just the kind of writing I love to do. So after my initial flurry of words I hunkered down and lowered my high-toned essay a peg or two in order to make it more reader friendly.   

If you’re like me you want to reach as many readers as possible and the best way to do it is with a tone that invites. More and more editors and publishers are seeing the wisdom in presenting information, personal experience, current events and even advertising in a way that will arrest their reader’s attention by using a certain tone. And that doesn’t mean a descent to the lowest common denominator by filling the page with oh’s, so’s and wells.

Instead they seek writing with words and phrases that might be used in conversation with a friend and this has great appeal on the page. The effect on the reader is that the words seem to have been written with exactly their circumstance in mind. I’ve even noticed this friendly conversational tone in ad copy, like this from a trendy catalog I recently got in the mail. It’s for a coral colored dress:

Ditch the dentist! Put a hold on housework. Groceries? Definitely maƱana. Once you unfurl this flutter of color in a breathtaking dress set you’ll think of far more interesting places to go.   

Now don’t you just want to rush out and buy two of those? Whoever wrote that little blurb used language that enticed me to take a second look at the dress. It might have begun, cancel your dentist appointment, but ditch the dentist! reads like something my girlfriend might say to me about a super sale going on at Kohls right now! Sure, I’d probably cancel my appointment, but ditching sounds so young and free, like the dress they want me to buy. The sale is in the words. 

Any time you find yourself in a friendly conversation with anyone, about anything, let yourself absorb the tone. Soon after make some detailed notes. Don’t be surprised if you wind up with a cartload of words and phrases to choose from when writing your next highly saleable article – on miracles maybe? 

Image: Free digital photos

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Things Kids Say

Olana the Traveler

She couldn’t wait to tell me about her upcoming trip to Maine where her maternal grandma lives. It would be a car trip, just Olana and her Mom, from their home in upstate New York. I, her primary care giver when Mom and Dad work, helped her pack.  In some regards this the MOST excitng part because it involves that pleasant state called anticipation. Dolls, her stuffed horse, Chester, and as many sparkly tops as she could find were crammed into her pink suitcase.

“We’re leaving at four and stopping for supper,” she said, face all lit up.

I smiled thinking of that trip, probably six hours, but I wasn’t sure. I knew this was not the first time she'd visited her grandma in Maine, so I asked.

“Olana, how long will your trip take?”

What a silly question her look implied, but she answered matter-of-factly, “Until we get there.”

Melodi the Thoughtful Observer

The two youngest granddaughters always come with me when I absolutely must ‘go potty’ because, as all you grandmas know, a fifteen month old and a three year old can get into a lot of trouble if  you don’t.

I always distract them with toys or something while I do the deed and tell Melodi, the oldest, to turn around when I have to readjust my clothing.

One day, though, she couldn’t resist a peek just before I buttoned my jeans. She caught a brief glimpse of my flesh colored undies with a tiny leaf pattern.

“I like your underware, Grandma,” she said shyly.

I smiled, said thank you, and quickly zipped. Then, after a thoughful pause, Melodi spoke again, almost in a whisper.

“I think you should keep those.”

Anna the Cartwheel Queen

Last summer, while picking up my nine-year-old grandson from swimming, Sam told me how well his lessons were going. Anna, who was five at the time, held my hand as we headed for the car. I lamented to them about not being a good swimmer myself.
I told Sam that my siblings and I were not able to take swim lessons. Our parents couldn’t afford it and our mother didn’t even drive until I was ten, adding that we spent most of our summers at home. He was fascinated with my story and asked me a couple of questions. As we talked I was fully aware that Anna was listening intently to our conversation.
Sam expressed his sympathy for me and wanted to know more about poverty in the “olden days.” I paused to frame my answer and Anna tugged on my hand.
“Grandma,” she said, her face a question mark, “when you were little was everything in black and white?”

All I can add is – Thank Heaven for little girls.
Pictures - Olana and Melodi during the church egg hunt this Easter and Anna with her decorated Christmas cookies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review

Last year while waiting for a decision from a publisher on my mystery, I managed to wrangle from them a few review copies of their published books. I relished the opportunity and wrote reviews for each one they sent. But one in particular stood out, and I thought you might like reading my review. So - if you're currently searching for a good summer read I'd recommend . . .

The Little Known

What more can you say about a story than, when you’re done reading it, you wish you weren’t. Such is the feeling I had when I finished reading The Little Known. I wanted to follow the main character, Knot, out of the book and into his life to see how he lived the rest of it. Set in our near-history of the infant civil rights movement the author, Janet Daugherty, pulls us into a captivating world of poverty, violence, indifference, love and hope. She does this without making us feel guitly for not knowing it exists while simultaneously sharpening our sensibilities towards it.

Ms. Daugherty does not beat us over the head with The Movement, but instead gives us a glimpse into what may have been happening in the minds and homes all around it. The good, the bad, the lovely and the ugly are spread alike through communities of all color, economic circumstance, and gender. I, for one, found that a refreshing relief. 

Here's the gist: 

When twelve-year-old Knot finds himself in possession of a great deal of money, he does what we’d all like to think we’d do – help others. Even though he knows the money is stolen the balance of  his struggle is about what the money can do more than who the money belongs to.

Though his initial intention is to help only a few, Knot helps many, finding along the way that human behaviour cannot be predicted or controlled by another’s good intentions. His generosity is not always rewarded with a changed life or a sudden 'seeing the light'. Sometimes instead of food there's a new television or an extra bottle for the alcoholic's stash. His disappointment is keen but it doesn't deter him from keeping up the good works, and while the worldly wise among us may smile sagely,  young Knot struggles on. Still, by the end of the story lives have been improved and we hope Knot’s life, off the page, improves as well.

If there were stars for this book, I'd give it a lot.

PS: This publisher passed on my book.

Image: Free digital photos

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guest Post

As you may know, my sister, Shari, visited me recently. Before she came to us she spent a few days visiting our brother, Tim, and his amazingly talented wife, Elizabeth, in Texas. Here she chronicles some of her experiences. Thank you, Shar - love you so much!

Where Good Resides
TEXAS is a different sort of country.  Can’t really explain it.  Maybe it’s the flags in the yards, maybe it’s the Bible on the table, or perhaps it’s the Texas pride in gun ownership that gives one a real feeling of safety and solidarity.   
 OR maybe it’s experiencing the life of two very hard- working, intelligent people relentlessly pursuing their dreams and succeeding beautifully!  That would be Tim and Elizabeth Bagger, my brother and sister-in-law.  My vacation at their home was glorious.  The steak dinner, a walk to the town square with friend Matt for a glass of wine was just about perfect. The next day, we visited the 6th Floor Museum, the historic building where Oswald took aim at JFK.  It is quite an emotional experience.  
If you want to talk about homes, theirs is beautiful.  I especially loved the library and the upstairs living room where all you could see out the windows was the lovely waving of the green trees.
A tour of the town of McKinney and dessert in the home of more friends was just about all a person could ask for. Good people, salt of the earth people.
Next vacation stop, New York.
Upstate New York, of course, is quite different.  Rain storms and cold weather DO NOT halt the Little League ball games, nor hinder the Soccer players.  Family love and the well- being of children is the most worthy pursuit evidenced here.  Imagine being welcomed into a home with fresh baked bread and hot milk sponge cake sitting out for your arrival.  Imagine your favorite flower, lilacs, sitting on your dresser.
Although my sister, Sue, is getting her first book published it certainly is not her only success.  She has been receiving check after check for many years for her thoughtful, calculated articles, short stories, children’s plays and poetry.  The store where she will sign copies of “The Red Shoelace Killer” for the launch of her book is run by two very classy, professional women who know the business well and also know many famous writers.  Sue is in good hands.
Sue’s phenomenal cooking brings the family over for Sunday dinner.  Chaos is rampant but the children are so beautiful it is a joy to watch them. 
Yes, there is an essence that I take away, loving homes and loving families.
It is where good resides.

Monday, May 14, 2012



A few days in with any out of town visitors and we tend to settle into some kind of comfortable routine. It was like that one afternoon when my sister visited for a week last year. We were in that pleasant afternoon lull before we had to think about going to my son’s for dinner and Shari sat at the computer in the bedroom. She’d asked me for a glass of orange juice which sat on the desk next to the keyboard.

While she checked her email I thought I’d take the time to give my house plants some water and went into the bathroom to retrieve the old yellow Tupperware tumbler I keep under the sink for just that purpose. I turned on the water, removed a few things from the cup and filled it up.

I felt very efficient as I tended to my thirsty plants and Shari and I chatted through the walls as we each did our own thing. When I finished with the plants I put the tumbler away and decided to brush my teeth. Might as well get a head start on the old grooming, right? I grabbed my toothbrush and sloshed away.

Just then I heard a dull thud and an outburst from my sister. “Oh, no.”

Her chair rolled back and then there was some huffing and puffing. 

“You okay?” I asked through toothpaste bubbles. I was giving a lot of attention to those molars! Felt good.

“Yeah,” she said back.

I scrubbed a bit more, finished my brushing and opened the medicine cabinet to put my toothbrush away. But I recoiled in horror at what I saw – my current toothbrush sitting nice and dry on the shelf. I looked at the one in my hand and realized . . .

 . . . it was the old one I’d pulled from the yellow tumbler and set one the edge of the sink just before I watered my plants – the one I use to scrub the toilet seat hinges.

Gaaaaaaaaag! I rinsed my mouth out about a hundred times before I came up for air. Then I stepped into the bedroom where Shari looked up and grimaced.

“Sorry,” she said, “I spilled the orange juice.”

Paper towels were sopping up the mess but I hardly  noticed. I was too busy worrying about what gooey little bits might have escaped my power rinse!

Image: Photostock                                               Free Digital Photos

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mom Loved Butterflies

With with a generous dose of hindsight I attempted to assess my mother’s mood in the old picture. Sitting with company around the dining room table, wearing a loose house dress she had one hand to her mouth as though sharing a secret. Thinking of the time frame I know now that she did have a secret. Mother’s loose dress was over a tummy that was pregnant – for the seventh time.

By then I was already out of the house, married with two children of my own, and living on the opposite side of the country. So when I read the casual reference to my mother’s condition in a letter from a friend it was the first  I knew of her pregnancy. And her due date was only a few weeks away! I was in shock. You see, this wasn’t an ordinary pregnancy – Mom was carrying twins – for the second time. The imminent birth of my two youngest sisters would bring the total number of children in the family to nine.

On the phone I demanded of my father why I hadn’t been told.

 “We were so afraid you’d worry,” Dad replied.

“Well, I have the right to worry just like everybody else!”

I stewed for a while but when my sisters were born I scraped the money together for a plane trip to see them all. Fortunately, I had other sisters to fill in some details.

Was Mom upset or depressed about the pregnancy?

Maybe for a while but what completely blew me away was how stoic and physically tough she was,” said one sister.  

“We were all so concerned about her health,”said another.

“We hardly talked to her about it for a couple of months,” said sister one. “It was just too hard.”

I realized one reason Mom didn’t tell me was her own natural modesty. Discussing such things was difficult for her and it was something no one else in the family would have felt comfortable doing, either.

Back in the late sixties the new birth control pill was being talked about everywhere. Women could choose when to become pregnant leaving no excuse for accidents. And even if an accident occurred our society was opening up to the idea of pregnancy termination, a step that my mother would never have taken, even being pregnant for the second time with twins at the age of 42.

But who would have blamed her for making an appointment with the doctor who had, four years earlier, delivered her first twins, my brother and sister? Who would have suspected if she’d gone to the hospital for a routine D&C? Her first twin pregnancy resulted in two babies weighing over seven pounds each. A C-section was her only choice for delivery. Her doctor said if she’d gone into normal labor her uterus was stretched so thin, she would have burst. What sane woman would risk that again?

I know she couldn’t have guessed at the effect her sacrifice and love would subsequently have on her other children, especially me. The strength it took to face the prospect of yet more diapers, sleepless nights, teething and potty training among so many other burdens of child rearing still moves me profoundly. And it came at a time when she was just seeing a glimpse of some free hours in the day while everyone was at school or work.

Years later, when Dad died, we were in the parking lot of the funeral home. I cannot remember what our conversation was running to, but from somewhere deep in her soul Mom looked directly at me and spoke these words, “You know, I am so thankful for all of my children. I just know that each one of you was born exactly when you should have been.”

And at this juncture I’m going to flash forward about forty years.

On July 17, 2009 my mother, then in her eighties, was home in her apartment enjoying time with three of her seventeen grandchildren. My nephew, his sister and cousin, all under the age of eight, had gone out onto Mom’s small patio to think up a game. Blake came back inside for water only to find Mom slumped over, red faced and unable to speak. When he called his sister and cousin in, they knew something was dreadfully wrong.

The very first thing they did was pray; bowing their heads asking for Grandma to be okay and to know what to do. Moments later Blake nervously dialed 911, then handed the phone to his older cousin, Sara. Soon an ambulance was on its way. Mom was rushed to the hospital and received the drug TPA within the three hour window required for a good recovery from her stroke. In a subsequent television interview Mom praised her grandchildren for their prayers and quick thinking.

Blake, his sister Ireland, and their cousin Sara are three of the children of the twins Mom was carrying when the picture at the dining room table was taken.

No Mom is perfect, but when we are made aware of the extraordinary gift from our Lord to women – that human life begins and grows within us – what can we do but honor and thank the one whose example brought us to that awareness? Our lives are watched over by One who foresees and a guided choice can bring astounding blessings.

Note: Mom died peacefully at age 84 on May 4, 2011. Her twin daughters, Stephanie and Pamela, prayed her into the arms of Jesus.

Image: idea go                                                                      Free Digital Photos

Friday, May 11, 2012


Of course  you first must pack and most of the time there’s lots of excitement and anticipation with that aspect of travel. We layer things according to whatever planned activities are in the offing or the level of delicacy of the items being packed. Undies in a separate bag, heavy jeans on the bottom, all things taken into account as the – on sale at Macy’s – luggage is loaded. The whole adventure lies before you.

But time goes by on a freight train when you're having fun and in no time at all, it seems, the bags are back on the bed or gaping open on the floor and it’s time to unpack.

Is it possible to return home with some essential essence of where you’ve been tucked up inside your softsided satchel? I think so. My sister, Shari, has been with us for the past week and that's why I haven't been here much. We so enjoyed her visit. I sent her home with a book for her Down Syndrome granddaughter, Penny. We found it in the Chatham bookstore where we visited and met the new owner, Nicole, (who was amenable to the idea of me doing a signing there). The book's title? Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes. Was that a sign or what? I’m sure the memory of that visit will come flooding back when Shari pulls the book from her suitcase side pocket.

Or how about the plastic shopping bag I gave her because it carried our wine glasses and bottle of Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine back from the Hudson/ Chatham Winery. Will she catch a bit of the heady fumes from our wine tasting as she smoothes the bag and remembers our bright Sunday afternoon visit? I hope so. 

We made deep fried dill pickles a few evenings ago. We both loved them when we had them at the Pirate’s House in Savannah last October and I couldn’t wait to make them myself. Now, I have to report that whenever you heat oil and get to frying anything in this old house the odor lingers for days. So perhaps some hint of dill or seasoned cracker crumbs crept into the sweater she’s unpacking right now, and her mouth waters at the thought of those pickles. We sat at my kitchen table and crunched them down with a glass of wine as we discussed world affairs.  

All of these whimsical musings come to mind as I sit here typing. I’m in the room where Shari stayed with the king sized bed behind me – the one she took such care to make before she left yesterday. The room feels oddly empty to me this morning.

I hope your unpacking fills you with lovely memories, Shari, and mirrors the excitement and anticipation of packing. I’ll certainly miss watching Robin Hood at night with you where our attention was riveted every time Richard Armitage breathed a line. I’ll miss having afternoon coffee – right at 2 – with you, showing you off to friends as we tooled around town, seeing your interaction with our grandchildren, and countless other little things.  

I guess I’m unpacking some memories, too. As Mom would say – love  you much – and miss you more.

‘Til next time,
Your big sister,


Thursday, May 10, 2012

For Writers

Tap an Expert on the Shoulder

I grumbled about staying after church in spite of the fact that lunch would be served. The afternoon included a program presented by two veterinarians who would talk, show slides and answer questions about Heifer International. However, as I shrugged into my coat a thought occurred to me; could there be a story here? In case there was I grabbed my camera, a pad and pen and tried to figure out an angle as I drove the five miles to the service.

Since the talk was linked to a youth project I decided to shoot for a children’s article. With only a bare bones idea of what I’d ask the two experts, I plunged ahead. The presentation was wonderful and the husband and wife veterinarians were full of facts and eye-opening anecdotes, things they were delighted to share with me after the program. Several hours later I plopped down in front of my computer with my gathered mass of notes and quotes, some good digital pictures and the doctors email addresses. It was a match made in heaven and I’d almost missed it. The whole experience brought “seize the moment” home to me in a way that served me well over many articles to come. 

One of the more onerous tasks of freelance writing is seeking out experts, but I’ve found that experts surround us at every turn and most of them love to expound. Take my middle son. He works at a very high level in the wind power industry; one or two questions about the world of wind and he’s off and blabbing. I know more about wind power than I ever wanted to know but I’ve tapped into his extensive knowledge and have been able to quote him as an expert many times. The same goes for my dental hygienist. While I stared at the ceiling from the dentist’s chair one morning she began telling about her two sons’ love of unicycling.

“Mffft. . . uh,” I gabbled as she scraped and flossed. That's patient-speak for “Can I talk to your boys about it?” She was delighted I’d asked and not only did I visit the club where the boys cycled, I spoke with their instructors in a sort of “accidental interview”. Their expertise added heft to my subsequent article, which I soon sold to a publication that was eager to have a kid’s sports story that was out of the ordinary.

If you’re like me, ideas for stories zip through your head all day long. Some get a quick flick of your finger and others are so brilliant, you clutch them closely to examine and develop further. Whether it’s fact or fiction there’s no question that input from an expert will only enhance your efforts and add authority to your piece. When you seek to track down that expert the first thing you should think is, who can I tap on the shoulder? Among the experts I’ve used are an adjunct professor of remedial mathematics at our local community college, a numismatist (coin collector), a biology teacher, the vice president of an accounting firm, a Libertarian candidate for Congress, a Ferrier (shoes horses), and a nurse who, along with his wife, owns a theater production company. These people are all friends, relatives or acquaintances.

Another thing I’ve found about experts; they got that way by being intensely immersed in their subject and when given full rein the knowledge they spew forth will fill your empty notebook to capacity and beyond.  So go ahead, look around you, there’s an expert close by that you can tap for almost any subject you’d like to tackle.

Image: Free Digital Photos