Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rainbow: A Sign of God's Promises


 
Following the horrible tragedy in Connecticut on Friday, many parents reticently took their children to school this morning.  The event opened up new thoughts, fears, and nightmares that most folks never had before.  Haltingly, cautiously, prayerfully, perhaps with a few more hugs than usual, parents got their children ready and put them on the bus or drove them to school.
But as I ate my breakfast and scrolled through my Facebook news feed, I noticed tons of friends in the Charleston area posting pictures of a beautiful rainbow that they spotted on the morning drive.  Two pictures even showed the end of the rainbow feeding into the rooftops of two different elementary schools.  In one other photo, the rainbow was clearly double.  All such photos that I saw were taken either by parents who were en route to drop off their children, or had just dropped them off.

This reminds me of the very first rainbow in Genesis 9.  God established the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with the earth and all living things in it. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13, NIV)   He promised that “never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood,” (Genesis 9:11b, NIV) and I believe we can translate it to our current trepidation.  Along with the pictures posted this morning, Facebookers wrote such statements as “timely sign of good and hope” and “Thank you, God . . . Your promises are forever!”  One posted by the local newspaper said, “A timeless reminder of hope.”

These statements are true.  They are right.  Even some who do not believe in God consider a rainbow to be a sign of hope.  They see it more culturally than spiritually.  Personally, I recoginize its origin, and in doing so, I find true peace and comfort.  There is One who cannot be knocked down or destroyed, will not break His promises, and can always be trusted.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Room-breaking Reprobate in Old Age


For any of you who might have noticed that I have not blogged in about a month, I will tell you why.  I turned 40 last week.
It's been a difficult birthday for me, and I can't even tell you the reason.  I have a lovely life, and I have no reason to be despondent or regretful about anything. So I'm not.  But this number really got to me for some reason.  My time on this planet is limited, and I have officially left youth behind.

Honestly, now that the birthday is behind me, I'm fine.  But I am exhausted from the last 6-12 months of swinging emotions.  There is much I could say about those emotions, but I don't feel like saying any of it.  I'm going to tell you a story instead.  This was my "welcome to 40."


My best friend and I went out of town on an overnight shopping trip.  We do this about once or twice per year, but this one was 6 days before my 40th.  We love our “girls’ weekend,” as we call it, and it does much for maintaining our sanity.  The hotel had us on the fifth floor, in room 521.  After breakfast, we got on the elevator to go back to the room.  We were deep in discussion about someone we saw at breakfast.  I was speculating, as writers are wont to do, about his life.  And then, as my friend and I are wont to do, we went off on a tangent and made up a wild, funny story that had absolutely nothing to do with the man at breakfast.

We got off the elevator, semi-whispering and laughing, and walked to the door.  I tried my key, but it didn’t work.  “I’ve got mine,” my friend said.

“No, that’s okay,” I answered.  “Mine worked yesterday.”  I tried again and again, to no avail.  I wiped the card on my shirttail to make sure it was clean.  “Maybe it’s demagnetized,” I guessed.  Again and again, I swiped it.  Again and again, it gave me the red light instead of the green one.

Finally, my best friend said, “Oh, that’s why!”  I looked up.  She was pointing at the placard on the wall.  I was trying to break into Room 221, not 521.  Oh. How. Embarrassing.  No explanation for this but our AGE.  Nevermind that we are both blondes.

My friend said, "We can't tell anybody we did this."
And I replied, "Except my blog."  So, I started laughing at the middle-aged flightiness of accidentally trying to get into the wrong room.  And thus my attitude turned, unexpectedly and inexplicably.  I had a delightful birthday.

 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

19 years ago today, it was a dark and spooky afternoon . . .


Photo of Buttrick Hall, Agnes Scott College from:  http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.com/nge/article/h-1451
 
For the most part, I think Halloween is just a big retail marketing scam.  “Hey!  Let’s all go out and buy a bunch of cheap, tacky, plastic junk that will give children nightmares and decorate our houses with it!”  Sheer Made-in-China madness.

But because it’s October 31, I will share a little “ghost story” that actually happened to me.  I was a student at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA from 1990-1994.  There are legends of several ghosts all over campus.  Too numerous to count, the sightings and experiences of students through the ages have been verbally passed down. 

The Dana Fine Arts Building is allegedly a paranormal hot-spot.  When Drama students are having practice in the theater sometimes at night, there is a person who appears in the balcony and watches the practice, then vanishes.  But the other “Dana Ghost” inhabits the ground floor, specifically the Ceramics Studio.  The story goes that a woman with very long hair was running the big clay mixer one night in the 1970’s.  Her hair got caught in the clay mixer, and you know the rest.

Being young, unbelieving in such nonsense, and unafraid of anything in general, I went to the Ceramics Studio to work on a project at about 10pm one night.  I was definitely the only person occupying the ground floor, and I heard some shuffling and walking from the area beyond and around the clay mixer.  I said hello a few times, and no one answered.  I didn’t stay long.

Another time, I was occupying a carrel in the lonely, quiet fifth floor of the library.  It worked great for take-home tests or really buckling down at exam-time.  The stacks had motion-sensor lights.  It was dark unless someone walked in front of that aisle, then the light would trip on.  One particular night, I was verifiably 100% alone up there.  I heard footsteps and dragging on the institutional tile floor.  The lights in the stacks lit up, one by one, getting closer to me.  I said hello, but no one answered.  The steps and dragging continued, and the lights tripped on consecutively.  I packed up pretty fast and made my way to the elevator.  Along the same path as the noise and the lights, I fled toward the button with the down arrow, and no one – no one – was there.  Strange.  Weird.  I have no explanation.

But on Halloween, 1993, my friend Martha and I had a hilariously haunting experience in her dorm room.  We ordered a pizza and turned on TBS to watch “This House Possessed,” the cheesiest B movie ever (even cheesier than the pizza).  The Amityville knock-off house loved the heroine so much, that it would not allow her to leave.  It killed everyone who came in, until her famous rock star beau came to the rescue at the end.   When the movie was over, I tried to leave Martha’s room.  The doorknob was stuck, and we were trapped.  “I can’t get out,” I told her.  She dismissed me, saying that was funny, but she had to write a research paper in German.  “No . . . I really can’t get out!”  After trying the doorknob for herself, she saw it was no joke.

Public Safety came and tried to get us out, but they had to call someone from Physical Plant who lived an hour away.  At the end of a two-hour ordeal, we were released as he removed the doorknob completely.  To this day, we always remind each other of the hilarious coincidence.  Actually, I don’t believe in coincidences per se, but I do think it was hilarious. 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Football in the South: When We All Become One Team


Here in the South, we take our college football very seriously.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  Some compare it to a religion.  We get all fired up about our teams, posting on Facebook and trash-talking at the water cooler.  “Love thy neighbor” and Southern Hospitality suddenly take on a diminished meaning when conversing with a fan of the week’s opponent.

But when a player goes down on the field and doesn’t get back up right away, everyone tends to come together.  All that other stuff is put aside for the time being.

On Saturday, South Carolina Gamecock #21 Marcus Lattimore took a nasty hit from one Tennessee Volunteer.  The video has been played everywhere . . . too many times.  Watching that orange Vol helmet knock Marcus’ leg in a direction which it ought not to go is more than lots of folks can bear.  It’s more than I can bear. 

According to Coach Steve Spurrier, Marcus Lattimore is probably the most popular player the Gamecocks have ever had.  This young man is someone you have to love, unless you are jealous of him.  Here is his bio.  He’s squeaky clean – no drugs, no criminal record, no scuffles, no pregnant girlfriend . . . nothing.  He loves God, and he loves his mama.  Holding the USC records for touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, he was headed for the NFL next year . . . before this past Saturday.  He runs like the wind, and the only way to stop him is to injure him.  Even then, sometimes he keeps going.  But not on Saturday.

When he went down, you could see the look on Marcus’ face.  He was probably thinking what everyone else was thinking.  The end of an NFL career before it even begins? 

Trainers rushed to his side, teammates flooded the field to stand near him.  And . . . many of the Tennessee players did the same.  What a show of class and compassion by those Vols who joined their opponents on the field.  Color of jerseys and helmets was disregarded for that moment in time.  Everyone watching became one team.  One team was hoping, praying for the best for this one young man.  One team was watching the anguish on his face, feeling the same anguish he felt.

For every one of the million tears that flowed in that stadium, there were a million more in front of tv sets.  Shoot, I opened up the newspaper on Sunday morning, and my eyes started leaking again.  But here’s the thing:  people weren’t just weeping.  They were praying.  Tens of thousands of people, for a conservative estimate, were praying.  It wasn’t just South Carolina fans, either.  Tennessee fans, Georgia fans, Florida fans, and – yes! – even Clemson fans.  Now that right there just warms my heart.

So what started out as reports of two broken bones and four torn ligaments had become, by Sunday night, a hyperextended knee and a few injured ligaments.  The news arrived with a very positive-sounding statement from Coach Spurrier that Lattimore would be able to play football again.  Is it any wonder, considering the number of people who were praying?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear an even better report later this week.  Maybe it isn’t even as bad as the report on Sunday said it was.  Lattimore told the Ol’ Ball Coach that he would be back.  I know in my heart that he’s right, and it may be sooner than people think.  Miracles happen every day for people who believe God is able.  This exceptional young man has his head and heart in the right place.
#21 will run again.

 

 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wending My Way Through the Internet and Avoiding Krakens

Have you ever been driving somewhere and suddenly turned off of your track on purpose?

As writer, I frequently find myself going "down the rabbit hole," as a friend put it last week.  At the time she said it, I was researching for a new short story.  I got on YouTube (fatal mistake) looking for videos of sharks beaching themselves.  As I kept getting distracted by the exciting titles of other videos that turned out to be *nothing,* I clicked my way right into an hour of "kraken sightings."

I had to laugh at myself.  Ultimately, I'm sure a kraken will show up in one of my stories as a result.

But today was different!  As I was driving around on the internet highway, I saw a great big souvenir shop with the words "FAMILY HISTORY!" in neon lights.  I jerked the car onto the next exit ramp intentionally.  Want to ride with me?  Here's how it happened:

1.  I was checking a link on a government website, because it was included in an article I wrote in January.  When you write articles for the internet, it's a really good idea to update them and make sure your links are still good from time to time.  But instead of this one being about National Hot Tea Month, the page was now some announcement related to hydroelectricity.  Instead of simply updating the link and moving on, I listened to that voice in my head that said, "Oooh!  Something shiny!  Pull over; pull over!"

2.  I thought of my great-grandfather, an engineer, who built the first hydroelectric plant in North America (Canada, specifically), or so I thought.  But right there in black and white, it said that Thomas Edison had built the first such plant in the world, and it was in Appleton, WI around 1880.  That is definitely in North America, too.  And it's definitely 40 years or more before my great-grandfather's project.  All right, I said to myself.  Gotta get my facts straight.  Right now.  Al Gore did not invent the internet, and my great-grandfather didn't build the first hydroelectricity plant in North America.

2.  I Googled my great-grandfather.  I clicked on an article on file in a SC library where a historian had synopsized letters between my great-grandfather and a couple of his brothers.  I learned that one of my grandfather's first cousins was institutionalized in various Sanitariums.  I learned that while my great-grandfather and family lived in Charlotte, the farm house back in SC was rented to a man who had to be turned out.  Reason?  96 broken window panes.  I'm guessing that the man was shooting up the house.  That's just the "fun" stuff.

3.  I decided I needed to send this link, by email, to my cousins.  Their grandfather was quoted in the article, too.

Now I was faced with a decision, though . . . continue meandering and proceed to Ancestry.com, or get back to work?  Work, it was.  (Here's the part where I impress myself.) I actually clicked back through every stop I had made along the way, and without getting lost.  What's more, I accomplished my business at each stop.  And, here at the end of the work day, I have actually posted a new article online and managed to get some work done, despite rabbit hole diving!  No kraken sightings today.

So, I found out that what my grandfather's father built was most likely the first hydroelectric plant in Canada, not North America.  (I probably could have just asked my dad, but then it would have been over with in 60 seconds or fewer.)  I learned more intriguing family history.  I made contact with some dear family members.  I proofed old articles and updated them.  I wrote and posted a new article on the internet, and am working on the next one already.  And now, friends, I have also blogged.  It's a good day in this writer's world.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

FICTION: Stayed

This past Friday, I set a timer and gave myself an hour to write a story.  It was an experiment.  I did it, and I wasn't displeased with the results.  I did spend a couple of hours yesterday revising it, though, and ended up undoing most of the revisions.  So it's very much like it was when I finished it on Friday.  The 23rd anniversary of Hurricane Hugo just passed, hence the subject matter.


Stayed

THE FLASHLIGHT FLICKERED.  “No, no. God, please, not now.”  Tonya groaned.  The batteries were brand new, but the cheap plastic light was only working intermittently.  She shook it back to life, but for how long, she didn’t know.  Darkness had overtaken the little wooden house half an hour earlier when the electricity quit.  The wind had been whining since sundown, but now it howled through the cracks around the windows and doors.  Above, the small loft added just a year earlier made new cracks and thumps that the house had never made before.  It was a jackleg job, done with plywood by a cousin.  Tonya still couldn’t believe her grandfather had paid him over a thousand dollars.  It wasn’t much more than a rude attic space.

                “I told you we shoulda left, Grandaddy!”  she shouted.  Hard of hearing, her salt-haired grandfather only grimaced at her.  They’d been told by the people on television to go to the high school gym in the village.

                Earlier in the day, police officers had urged, “Seek shelter now.  When the wind starts, it will be too late.”

                Neighbors had implored, “Come with us, Louis.  This is a big storm.  It’s different.”

“Category five,” Tonya had nodded.

“Never left before.  Ain’t leaving now.” Grandaddy had barked with finality each time, and with a shotgun laid across his lap for punctuation.  All the well-meaning warning wielders made their way back down the oak-lined dirt road with heads shaking.  Grandaddy’s thin frame fit neatly in the rickety wooden chair with the rope seat.  Peeling red paint always stuck to his back when he stood up out of it.  But there he had waited, had stayed, all afternoon.  When the breeze kicked up late in the day, the five sagging porch steps creaked under Grandaddy’s weight as he retreated into the house.

Now drips and streams from the roof turned the oddly-shapen carpet remnant under their feet soggy.  Its cornflower hue looked black in the dark, soaked room.  Tonya raced to and fro with pots and bowls, trying to catch all the leaks until  it became futile.

Grandaddy waved his cane in the air.  “Cut that out and sit down!  It’ll dry out tomorrow,” he hollered.

But when Tonya turned to face him, what she saw through the window behind his head propelled her forward to clutch her grandfather’s arms with her slender, light brown hands.  “Get up!  Get up!  God, help me!  Get up, Gran-”  Even in the blackest night, the white froth on the wall of water rushing them glowed phosphorescent.  The old man moved in slow motion as he turned to look backward and then tried to push himself up.

Adrenals screaming, Tonya pulled her grandfather from his chair and dragged him up the steep, little stairs into the loft.  The surge slammed and rocked the house.  Black water filled the room beneath them as they scrambled all the way up.  The flashlight made one last flash from under the water, then died.

They inched to the wall to lean back.  They grasped each other’s hands, swaying gently with the house during the eye.  Grandaddy gave Tonya a pat on the arm.  Despite his stubbornness in staying, she still trusted his lifetime of knowledge.  At only nineteen, she hadn’t much choice.  A trace of starlight glowed from the windows downstairs.  She checked her grandfather's face for what might come.  His jaw had unclenched.  His eyelids were now halfway down, revealing exhaustion.  He looked at Tonya and answered her with a nod and a sigh.  But the sound of water gently lapping against the steps still gave Tonya a start every few seconds.  She would scramble over to peer down, fearful of the water’s further swelling.  It came no higher than the third step from the top. 

The back end would not be as bad as the first; that much she knew.  So when it began, she willed herself to relax.  The water began to recede downstairs, and she soon stopped looking.  The low roar of the wind lulled them both into a wakeful rest.

                In the first light, Tonya and her grandfather were awakened by distant shouts.  They heard their names and called back.  Then they began their careful descent into the muck-coated living room.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(Truth) A Handy Husband Around the House


Ladies, you will be jealous of me when I tell you this.  I have a husband who helps out around the house.  Granted, he has an odd work schedule that allows him to be home more than some other husbands.  But even if it were not so, he would still do things that he thought needed doing.  Of course, he takes care of the mowing, weedeating, and such.  But on any given day, he also might vacuum, clean up the dishes after dinner, do laundry, or give the kiddo a bath.  It’s lovely, to say the least.  He’s a hard worker, and a wonderful person.

Now, before you start asking what I put in his food to elicit this behavior, I do have one “however” for you.  Here goes:  He is, HOWEVER, still a typical man with challenged sense of aesthetics and d├ęcor.  He can make something look neat.  And he’s very sensible about re-using and recycling things, which is a great quality to have.  (Now do you have an idea where I’m going with this?)  But it’s still my job to make things look homey.

So, we had a cactus that was thriving on our back porch, and growing every day.  We actually discovered it was several plants, and could be transferred into separate pots.  Transfer we did, and the plants have done very well.  One in particular was growing so tall that its little pot was no longer sufficient.  So for a while, I walked past it on the back porch every day and thought, I really need to do something for that little plant.

Handy hubby to the rescue.  I was upstairs working the other day, and he was doing his usual helpful things downstairs and outside.

He came inside and informed me:  “I repotted that little cactus.”

I responded gratefully: “Oh, wonderful!  Thank you!”

After a pause, he smiled and said, “You’ll have to see what I used.  You’ll think it’s funny.”

I smiled and silently prayed, Thank you, Lord, that it’s on the back porch and not the front.  I’ll check it out later.

And before I go any further, please note that I am NOT complaining in any way.  I just think it is extremely funny.

So, here is what he used:

 

First, he put the plant in an old, broken, plastic pot that had been put in the recycling because it was dropping soil.  Then, he . . . What’s that?  Why yes, it IS sitting inside one of my old kitchen pots that I was going to throw away!  Now, here’s the best part!  He went to the trouble to rearrange all of the plants in (a man’s idea of) an attractive manner.  It’s really a very nice display, with one exception.

 

Maybe you remember the old Sesame Street song and can sing along with me:

One of these things is not like the others,

One of these things does not belong!

Can you guess which one is not like the others,

Before I finish my song?

Lala la la la la la lala lala . . . .


Not only does he help out a lot, but he’s environmentally aware and very entertaining!  I love that man.

 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where is her happy ending?


Many readers have communicated to me that the story “Get Your Own” from my recent collection The Ballad of the Shirley T and Other Stories stayed with them long after they put the book down.  This is a wonderful compliment for a writer to receive, of course.  While I’m happy to hear it, I can’t take credit.  And not only can I not take credit, but these compliments also serve as a reminder for me.  They are a reminder of something which I know I have to do.  I have to write the next part of the story.

Why is the story haunting?  So far, everyone has given the same reason.  Galya.  Is she okay?  What happened to her?  And here is my personal favorite among the comments:  Please write a sequel.  Yes, yes, I know.  I know you’ve only heard part of the story.  Her story was far bigger than I expected it to be, and there is much more to it.  It was very difficult for me to write, and the sequel is difficult, as well.

When God gave me inspiration for that story, I prayed over it before I began to write.  I asked God what story HE wanted to tell.  I asked Him to give me part of His heart.  I wanted the story to flow directly from the heart of God into my own, and from mine into the reader’s.  I continued to pray this as I wrote, day by day.

I knew then, and still know, that no human can ever conceive of the contents or capacity of God’s heart.  I am no dummy.  I would only receive a molecule of a fraction, a microscopic drop of an infinite source of love in order to write this story, but that tiny drop is more than enough.

Many times, I have felt the lightning strike and been able to sit down and “bang out” a short story in a few hours or a few days.  That was never the case with Galya’s story.  It came slowly.  It hurt.  I took extra precautions and felt especially burdened for her character.  I felt especially burdened to be delicate and truthful with what I was given.  From the very first sentence, Galya was my child.  I held her and loved her.  Day after day, I labored over it.

Once it was in the editor’s hands, I was told that the story had “too tidy” of an ending.  I knew it was true, and I cut the very end.  There was too much else to tell - in between where it ends now and where I knew it would ultimately end.

So, if you’re wondering, I’ll leave you with a clue.  Remember when Galya sat breathless, bleeding, and terrified behind the counter in the fabric store?  She was calling for help, but she hung up the phone and left.  She hung up too soon.  Help was on its way.  Where she went next, she could also find help.  But the real help that she wanted was already being dispatched, dear readers.

What challenges will she face next, and will her mother come looking for her?  Coming soon . . . Get Your Own, Part II.

Leave a comment and let me know – would you like it in print format or e-book format?  If e-book, do you have a Kindle or a Nook?
If you haven't read the first part of the story, click here (Paperback or e-book) to find it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Teacher's Hands

I love writing flash fiction.  It keeps my muscles warm when I reach writer's block on another project.  Below is one of my flash fiction projects.  I hope you enjoy it.
Photo credit


A Teacher's Hands


I knew exactly what I would get for Mrs. Carter for Christmas.  My mother walked me into McCall’s Pharmacy downtown, and my brown, leather shoes thumped quickly across the wood floor.  My knee socks started to slide down.  “Slow down, Virginia,” my mother admonished.

I sighed heavily and heel-toed my way to the cosmetics section.  A shelf displayed large bottles of scented hand lotions.  The palette was overwhelming, but all pastel.  For every fruit, flower, tree, or nut, there was a different color of lotion, and a different picture on the bottle.  I stood before the pinks and chose the one with a rose on the label.

“That’s what you want to get her?” my mother questioned.  I nodded.  Her curly red hair was unruly that day, and she tucked it behind her ear.  Checking the price, she added, “Well, all right,” then handing it back, “Why this one?”  I knew why, but I wasn’t sure how to articulate it.

Mrs. Carter’s hands were always wrinkled and dry.  It was probably from all the chalk dust.  She would tappity-tap-tap down that blackboard with little white crumbs flying in every direction.  The eraser would make a soft pop, then swish the dust back and forth at the front of the room.

Loose skin hung from Mrs. Carter’s “old lady” fingers, as I thought of them, giving them a soft look, like milky velvet.  But a white-knuckled grip forced the obstinate, swollen, old windows in the classroom open on pleasant days and told of the unbreakable strength in the bones underneath.  With a red pen, she graded our papers using perfect flourishes, angles and loops typical of old-fashioned cursive.  The words she wrote had all the propriety and politeness of an invitation to tea with the mayor’s wife.  

Mrs. Carter’s fingernails were always manicured and neat, but never too long.  Great length would not have been practical for a teacher charged with educating twenty-two fourth-graders.  After all, those hands had to pat shoulders under falling tears.  They had to sew buttons back onto a dress after a tree-climbing accident at recess.  They had to steer dirty, sweaty necks to the principal’s office.  They had to shuffle papers, carry books, slap a yardstick on a desk to get attention, move thumbtacks on a bulletin board.  Those hands baked cupcakes and brought them to school once a month to celebrate birthdays.  They dialed a parent’s phone number when a child seemed troubled or had slipping grades.  They clapped at the conclusion of oral book reports.  They dug in the dirt and captured small creatures in the name of science.  Those were busy hands.

On her left hand through it all was Mrs. Carter’s thin, tight wedding band.  She had told us during the first month of school that she never took it off, nor did her husband remove his.  I thought that was wildly romantic and sweet, for a couple to be so deeply connected as to never remove their wedding bands.  When we were practicing our long division one day in October, a delivery boy brought a magnificent bouquet of pink roses into the classroom.  It was an anniversary gift from Mr. Carter.  Pink roses were Mrs. Carter’s favorite.  She told us she thought they were soft and ladylike, but with a strong stem not easily broken or bent.

So I tried to condense it all and answer my mother’s question, “Why this one?”  before we got to the cash register.  I finally looked up at her as we got in line.

“Because,” I said simply, “she has beautiful hands.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to pencils, back to books . . .

Okay, I admit it.  Even in a private school, the four year kindergarten doesn't exactly use a lot of pencils and books.  And that's as it should be.  They are playing, singing, dancing, building, listening to stories, taking care of class pets, and having a wonderful time.  That's how a four-year-old learns best.

But that little song that the children sing at the end of the school year about "No more pencils, no more books . . ." comes to mind right now as I reflect on how glad I am that the school year has begun.  For the last two weeks, I have been writing and writing and writing!  While my son is at school, I am back to my sweet spot: creating things out of words.  I'm so happy.

New novel ready yet, you ask?  No, indeed.  That thing has been to threshing floor.  It is slowly, but surely, being rebuilt and restructured and . . . yes, mostly re-written.  The story itself is mostly intact.  But point of view, pace of plot, and some characters have all changed.  The book will be better for it, I believe.  So we all must wait a little longer for that.

In the meantime, I continue to write short stories.  I may post some here one day soon, if I am feeling wacky.

I also write articles in various spots online.  Here's a recent creation:  http://www.squidoo.com/have-a-successful-trunk-or-treat-event

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day: What Makes Us Great


Gumption.  Courage.  Elbow grease.  Determination.  Ingenuity.  Dedication.  Faith.  Fortitude.  Our ancestors who left their home countries in search of America possessed all of these qualities.  On tiny ships, they set out as free agents.  Their dreams of free exercise of religion, free enterprise, and opportunity for future generations were realized through braving the harshest of nature’s elements, fighting wars, establishing laws, taking risks, and trying over and over until they succeeded.

The same qualities accompanied those immigrants who arrived a couple of hundred years later on larger, more sophisticated ships at Ellis Island.  So it is today for those immigrants who come here with the desire to become Americans and stay until they die.  Whether those determined Americans-to-be arrive on an airplane, drive across a border, or stow away while trapped for weeks or months inside a shipping container, they come here for opportunity.  When I see pictures of those desperate souls who dare to float across the Florida Straits - across 90 miles of perilous ocean on inner tubes or rudimentary, handbuilt rafts - I realize how good we have it here.  Those of us born here never had to face sharks, stormy seas, drowning, or dehydration to get here.  Imagine being so desperate to get away from something, so hopeful that you could have opportunities you have never had before, that you risk your life in such a manner.  Many have perished before reaching our Land of Promise.  In the 90’s, thousands attempted to make it across those straits in various homemade floating devices, with only one in four reaching Florida beaches alive.  Those same desperate souls would rather die trying for freedom than stay in the old circumstances.  Rather die.  God help them.  What we have here must be pretty darned good, y’all.

That same searching spirit that rows its way here is what built this nation, brick by brick, board by board.  The huddled masses of hundreds of years ago sawed, hammered, tilled, planted, watered, harvested, sewed, and welded us into the great nation we are.  We continue to be great because of education, small businesses, free speech, and choices that are unfathomable in other countries.  It’s better here, because of opportunity.

While times have been tough in the last few years, the USA is knocked down but not destroyed.  Yes, over 8 million jobs were lost in 2008 and 2009 with only a few added back since.  But the USA has woken up.  The battle cry has been heard, and the people are standing up. 

Descendants of English, Irish, Scots-Irish, German, Japanese, Mexican, Cuban, and everything in between are rising up not as the heritage of the old countries, but as the heritage of the Melting Pot.  “Bring back our jobs!” they are crying.  We are Americans, and we will work hard.  We will not give up.  And we will not allow the opportunity that gives this country its good name to be taken away.  That’s what makes us great.  How are we doing it?

The non-partisan Buy American/Made in the USA movement is growing every day.  It inspires me and excites me to see more and more people making an effort to buy American goods and support American jobs.  In honor of our great nation, go out and buy something today that was made in the USA.  Cheer Google for creating a USA-made media streamer, the Nexus Q.  Cheer Chi for bringing some hair dryer manufacturing jobs back to the USA.  Support a local artisan or buy a buy a book written by  a local author.  Tell the corporations who shipped their manufacturing overseas to get wise and bring it back.

While you’re at it, watch the trailer for Josh Miller’s movie “MADE IN THE USA: THE 30 DAY JOURNEY” that is coming out soon:  MOVIE TRAILER

People like Josh Miller change the world.  People like Josh Miller are Americans.


Who are your favorite Americans?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Time for Some Oxygen


A few months ago, I was working on my novel when things came to a screeching halt.  Sure, you can call it Writer’s Block, but it was much more serious than that to me.  Here I was, about 50,000 words into it, and the whole thing just kind of shut down on me.  Like a machine that stops working.  And then I realized that maybe this machine had a faulty design from the start.  I put it down.

Simultaneously, my parents asked me if I would be willing to do some painting in their house.  For various reasons, they just didn’t want to have someone they barely knew working in their house for an extended period of time.  I really love to paint, normally.  I find it therapeutic, and love seeing the physical progress of my hard work.  It was just what the doctor ordered.

I sang all the way through the first couple of days.  But things started to deviate from the original plan a little.  A color was wrong, and the entire room had to be re-done.  In another room, the semi-gloss betrayed brush strokes in a most offensive manner.  Redone, of course.  Trim and doors were not part of the original contract, but were added.  Due to my inability to just go over there for eight hours per day for days on end, this project was taking an eternity.  The joy of painting had become drudgery.  I made mistakes and had to clean them up, over and over.

Yesterday, as I put the last bit of marshmallow latex on a door frame, I said, “I just can’t handle it anymore.  I’m so sick of painting.”  I had been pushing myself along, almost through tears, thinking, This is not the talent that God blessed me with.  This is not what He created me to do.  Writing is.  I can’t breathe.

So this morning, I knew I would be getting back to my real occupation, my life’s work, my passion.  As I made breakfast, I realized I was literally dancing and singing around the kitchen.  Just the thought of doing what I love gave me a new boost of energy.  The oxygen had already returned to my brain.  As I have spent the day where I belong (in front of the computer, tapping away), I have remembered who I am.  I am me again.  I feel good in my own skin.  And it doesn’t have any paint smudges on it.

What activity is like oxygen for you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Does It Get Easier?

I remember when my son was a tiny newborn.  It seems like yesterday, but it was four and a half years ago.  He was a sweet, easy little baby to have around.  I didn't know that at the time, though.  I was so overwhelmed by the feelings associated with first-time motherhood.  Things that dominated my mind were such as:  "Am I doing this right?"  "Is the formula too hot?"  "Is the formula too cold?"  "How long has he had this dirty diaper?"  "What if I drop him?"  "Does he know who I am?"  "Is he still breathing?"

I bumbled along, wondering, worrying, and going one hour at a time.  When my son was almost a month old, my best friend arrived for an overnight visit.  I had never been so glad to see her.  Having a six-year-old and three-year-old herself, I knew she would be able to shed some light on what I was doing right or wrong.

"You're doing fine, you know," she said halfway through the visit, sensing my uncertainty.  Those words of reassurance made a haze dissipate and the sun shine down into my living room.

Toward the end of her visit, I was reflecting on the lack of sleep (which really wasn't an issue for me, since my baby started sleeping through the night at 11 days old. However, the complications after my C-section made up for it.), the stress of not knowing what I was doing . . . well, I can't even remember now what it was that I thought was so hard.  But I thought this motherhood thing was tough, and in retrospect, I want to laugh at myself for asking her that question.

But my friend didn't laugh.  She thought for a moment and said, "It gets different.  I won't say easier.  As soon as you get everything figured out, something new will come into the picture."  Bless her heart, she didn't want to scare me.  What I have realized over the last four and a half years is that it gets both easier and harder with each passing year.  She was right - it's just different.

I never thought I would be such an emotional basket case over my child changing schools at age four, but I have been.  We have said goodbye to the wonderful preschool where he has been for the last three years, and are gearing up for "big kid school" in the fall.  The adjustment for me will be having him away from me for a full school day, five days per week.  It will be a big change from our three day per week, 9-12 routine.

On the other hand, I think he will thrive, and I would never want to hold him back.  I'm excited for him, but it's just breaking my heart that he will turn FIVE at the end of this year and leave behind the "little years."  For years now, we have woken up in the morning whenever we felt like it (usually sunrise for him). The years where we hang out in pajamas while we read books or watch Curious George, eat snacks and play with toy cars, or get in the car to go putz around in Target at 10am . . . are over.  I know we still have this summer, and other summers.  But it feels like more than just a new chapter in the book.  It feels like a whole new volume in the series.

There were days I thought this time would never end.  There were days I prayed for school to come sooner, so that I could go about my business and get other things done.  But while it seems to drag day by day, the years are flying past us.  Where did they go?  While I would never want to re-live him getting his little 20-month-old head stuck between wooden rods in a chair back, the scary ER visit with the high fever, or some of the harrowing potty training moments, I wish I could go back and visit earlier times just to drink in his littleness and his sweetness.  And I wish I could take back the times I yelled at him in frustration.

But, I can't.  And as my friend pointed out to me so long ago, I have found that it never really gets easier, just different, on a good day.  And yes, sometimes it is harder.  She just texted me a few moments ago and said, "Hang in there!  I'm not going to tell you it gets easier, because it doesn't."  I know she's right.

Today, I feel that complicated motherly conundrum: simultaneous joy and mourning.  I am mourning the end of a "little" phase of his life.  My baby is no longer a baby.  But I am joyful and amazed by the wonderful little boy he is becoming.  I would never, ever want to hold him back.  But it sure is hard to say goodbye to the "little years."

I'm going to inhale every moment of this summer with him like it's the last breath I will ever take.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Keep It At Home

“Buy American,” friends and relatives have told me over the years.  Nodding my head in agreement, I would think to myself, If only I had time to look.  When you’re in a hurry, it’s not usually a good time to start a new habit.  But even during times when I wasn’t that busy, I would forget to check to see where merchandise was made.

Until recently.
The recalls on dangerous products made in China have been mounting over the last several years.  Our economy is still in the gutter.  People are still losing jobs and homes.  Crime is on the rise as more people become desperate.  A  comeback will rely, in part, on putting Americans back to work.  Decreasing our imports and increasing our exports would be a great start.  But major retailers here need to get the message first:  We want to buy American.  I think many people are like me:  they think buying American is a great idea, but don’t have the time to stop and think about something else in their hectic lives.  But I have resolved to do my part by buying more American goods.
I was shoe shopping recently.  Here is what I found:  Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, OH! Made in Italy!, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Made in China, Aha!  Made in India!, Made in China . . . you get the picture.  Not one pair made in the U.S.A.  Now, shoes made in America are a bit harder to find than some other products.  But walk into any big store and look for most any product.  Wal-Mart, Tuesday Morning, or any other, and just walk around and take inventory.  What you will find may shock you.  It shocked me.
I recently did this when shopping for toys, clothing, bed linens, towels, picture frames, scrapbooking supplies, gift items, greeting cards, and a few other things.  Almost everything I picked up was made in China.  There were a few things made in India, Pakistan, or Thailand.  There were a very few made right here in the red, white, and blue.  We are literally pouring our hard-earned paychecks into other countries (mainly the communist People’s Republic of China).
Please understand that I am not anti-China, nor am I saying we should not buy any products made outside the U.S.A.  That would be pretty much impossible, or very difficult.  Check out one man’s mission to use only American products for 30 days here:  http://www.usa30days.com/
I just think, in this instance, that we should take care of our own before we take care of others.  I understand that products from China are much less expensive, but nine times out of ten, the quality is also inferior.
Trying to go “cold turkey” on American-made items is overwhelming, though.  Pick one or two suggestions from the list below to ease yourself into the habit.

1.        When shopping online, add “Made in USA” to your search terms.

2.       Pick one or two categories.  For example, tell yourself you will only buy toys or clothes made in the U.S.A. 

3.       If you have time while shopping, start checking products before you place them in your basket.  Make an effort to put more “Made in the U.S.A.” items in your basket than items made in any other country.  You might pay a little more, but it’s worth it. 

4.       Buy from local artisans.  Even if they use some materials from another country, the labor is still local!   

5.       Buy from neighbors with home-based businesses (like Premier Designs Jewelry, Thirty-One Gifts, Partylite, etc.), even if some of their products are made in China . . . you are still helping an American company, and helping your neighbor who is working hard at her home-based business.

That’s a start, and you are helping a fellow American keep his or her job for another day.

Americans will work hard.  We just need the freedom to do so.

Need a few resources to help you get started?





How about you?  Do you try to buy American?  Do you have any favorite American-made products?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chalk Streets

One of my son's favorite activites is drawing "chalk streets" on his little portable blackboard.  He creates intersections, lines down the middle of the streets, trees, and buildings.  He then asks me to label the buildings (since he's only in 3K and can't spell all the words yet).  Fire and police stations are first, of course, because he's a boy.  We fill in the rest of the blanks with things like stores, banks, gas stations, churches, and schools.  We draw little houses, too.

It's so much fun to imagine and build a little town!  The point of it all, of course, is that he puts Matchbox cars down on the streets and drives them hither and yon.  "This one has to go to the bank," he will say, and add "bbbbbbrrrrrrrooooommmmm" as he drives the car over to the bank.  "The fire truck has to get to this house, because it's on fire!" is heard almost every time.  Traffic jams sometimes ensue, with honking, beeping or shouting about being in a hurry.  There's an occasional crash.

As grown-ups, we have to map out our courses every day, don't we?  At least we should.  When I realized it had been nearly a month since I last blogged, I knew that was the result of a lack of mapping.  Sure, I see the big dot on the opposite coast where I would like to go, but I have to see what roads are in front of me first.  Whether I turn right or left may affect how long it takes me to get to that big dot, and I don't want the wind to just blow me any old way it pleases.  Lately, I have been doing lots of spring cleaning and taking care of all the "other stuff" that comes up.  But in buckling back down on writing, I have to draw some chalk streets of my own.  Where will I be able to stop for fuel?  How far will I make it today?  I need an alternate route in case I hit a traffic jam.

I'm going to start setting some new weekly goals and boundaries for how much time I spend doing various tasks, like marketing, working on my novel, blogging, yoga, laundry, mopping, etc.  Don't get me wrong . . . I'm glad I did all that spring cleaning, and I'm not even finished with it yet.  But life marches on, right?

Since organization and time management have never been my forte, I'm open to any and all suggestions and advice.  What do your chalk streets look like?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pollen Fever . . . not as much fun as Boogie Fever

So it's that time of year again.  The flowers are popping out all over town.  Unfortunately, so is the yellow pine pollen, which can be seen billowing through the air in yellow clouds.  With a strong breeze, it gets knocked loose from the trees and covers everything (cars, houses, roads, people, and anything else exposed) with a yellow dust.  It makes some people sicker than others.  Unfortunately, my son and I both fall into that first category of "some people."  Benadryl, nose sprays, cough syrup, eye drops, cough drops, and tissues can be found in pretty much any room of our house.

The worst part (besides the difficulty breathing and being up all night coughing) is being a prisoner in my own home.  My son, after playing on the school playground the other day, ended up with red eyes.  I'm sure he probably rubbed his eyes with his little yellow-dusted fingers.  Days later, here we are:  cooped up and going crazy.  A simple trip to Target in the car can set us back a whole day in terms of progress we have made with all the previously-mentioned medicines.

Every now and then, when the meds are in full effect, my son starts acting like himself.  He jogs around the house in hot pursuit of an imaginary pirate stealing a treasure chest.  He breaks out in song.  Or he dances with whatever music happens to be streaming from the tv.  In those moments, I am tempted to take him to school or leave the house again.  But if I do, we will lose a whole day of progress and be as sick as we were at the start.  Coughing through the night, nose dripping, eyes red and running.  The Boogie Fever I see in the family room would become the same Pollen Fever that prevents the whole house from getting a decent night's rest.

So I have an idea.  I think we need something like HazMat suits for pollen.  Can you imagine people walking around in baggy white space suits over their clothes?  It wouldn't be everyone . . . apparently some people are immune to the point of even having their windows open this time of year.  But those of us affected could yell muffled messages through our clear helmets.  We would fumble with purses and wallets through awkward, bulky, gloved fingers.  Arriving home, we would stand at our back doors and be sprayed down by a garden hose before entering the back door.

I think I'm onto something.  In the meantime, here's an article about preventing bringing the pollen inside the house:  Keep the Outdoors Out

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Adventure with a Knight on a White Horse

Being single until I was 33 years old added up to a lot of lonely February 14ths. Now, there are plenty of single people who have a healthy, positive attitude toward the day, but I was not one of them. I had some good Valentine’s Days, sure.  I had some boyfriends along the way who spoiled me with flowers and love letters and the like. But most February 14ths were gloomy for me. I won’t bore you with my sob stories, but literally, my chest used to tighten when I would walk into a Target or Wal-Mart after Christmas and see that heart-shaped things were being stocked on the shelves.


In 2006, all of that changed for me. Let’s just say I was very interested in someone special in the early part of that year, and had pretty good reason to think he was equally interested in me. That “someone special” turned out to be my husband, Chip. We had shared hours of deep conversation, a long walk back and forth across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, and had even prayed together. So when he called me in early February and asked me out for “February 14th,” I said I thought I was probably available. Then I tried not to breathe heavily into the phone, since I was bouncing up and down with excitement.

When I left work on February 14, 2006, I raced home to get ready. Because Chip was working into the early evening, we had agreed that I would cook dinner for him at my condo. Simple enough, right? I’m not sure how, but somehow I managed to char the stir-fry in my fancy Le Creuset pan. (See my earlier post about a small fire that was later set in this pan.) The stir fry was still edible, just a bit on the well-done side. But the smoke that filled my condo was overwhelming, setting off the alarm. It smelled awful. Well, this was a dilly of a pickle. Chip had never been to my place before, and his first impression of it was going to be clouded by a stench and a fog so thick you could barely see your hand in front of your face. He was due any time, and I panicked.

Throwing open the sliding glass door, I placed a box fan in front of it and tried sucking the smoke out of the house. I sprayed Lysol. I opened my front door and stood there swinging it back and forth like a madwoman. The freezing cold air rushed in from outside, and toasty heat disappeared. Cold and stinky. My home was now cold, stinky, and made my eyes burn. Well, he’s a fireman, I told myself, so maybe this will make him feel right at home. I changed my smoke-tainted clothes, sprayed perfume on my hair, and prayed for the best.

Thank the Lord, Chip called to say he was running late. He had been detained at work.

So by the time he arrived, I am pleased to report that the condo was back to normal. Warm, decent-smelling, and non-allergenic, at any rate. I was able to open the door calmly and play the hostess who has it all together. He came bearing a big bouquet of flowers and sincerest apologies for being late.

I had chosen a Pinot Grigio to accompany the meal, and pulled it from the fridge. I smiled to myself. Just a couple of hours earlier, I had noticed that I had inadvertently purchased a bottle whose label pictured a knight on a white horse. I hoped that this was God’s way of foreshadowing that my knight on a white horse had finally arrived. I knew one thing . . . this was already the best Valentine’s Day I had ever had.

We chatted in the kitchen as I opened every single drawer and fumbled through them all . . . unable to find a corkscrew. Chip began helping me look. “Maybe you don’t have one?” he offered. But I knew I did. I had more than one, and told him I had just used one recently. After a few minutes, I handed him a good, sharp knife and he proceeded to dig, pull and push at the cork. He was successful, and we had our Pinot.

As we sat down to eat, I told him why his late arrival worked out perfectly, describing in full humor the reason I almost called to tell him to bring an oxygen mask. Then I found out, to my delight, that there are some foods he actually *likes better* when they are slightly charred. Stir fry qualified. He cleaned his plate, emptied the pan for seconds, and proceeded to eat what was left on my plate, as well. Count me starry-eyed. I was impressed by his good table manners, and he by my collection of baseball cards. We picked little pieces of floating cork from our glasses of wine as we drank. We talked and laughed. When he said it was late and he should go, we walked to the door. There, we ended up sitting on the floor and talking for another two hours.

In the weeks that followed, we would find six corkscrews in my kitchen. We still laugh about that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Mouse's House! Tomorrowland Speedway Lives On.

We made a trip to Walt Disney World last week.  Out of the four times total that I have been, it was the best, by far.  My four-year-old son's excitement was like nothing I have ever seen.  He knew where we were going, but he had no idea what it would be like.

So when we arrived at our hotel (one of the Disney properties) with its giant statues of Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead, a Mickey telephone, and Baloo and Mowgli, he thought THAT was IT.  And he would have been perfectly happy if we had never left the hotel.  Had we known that, we could have saved hundreds of dollars on passes to the parks.  But we had the passes, so we decided to go ahead and use them.

Of course, a lot has changed since my first trip down there as an eight-year-old in 1981.  Magic Kingdom was the only thing there back then, and the Contemporary Resort with the monorail running through the lobby was the only hotel "on property."  But the Disney property has so many parks, attractions and hotels now, it is like its own county.  Forget about zip code.  I'm pretty sure our hotel (with over 3,000 rooms and about 4 pools) had its own zip code.

But a few things remained the same from my very first visit over 30 years ago.  The Tomorrowland Speedway has the same little race cars.  I was entertained, while waiting for my husband and son to make their way around the track, by watching the people finishing the ride.  A teenage boy, in particular, edged up behind an old man who was alone in another car.  The boy was making small surges in his advances, peering carefully over the front end of the car.  He would get very close, then the old man would move up.  They danced like this for a bit, until suddenly the boy went pouncing forward like a cat and gave the old man's car a good BUMP.  The old man's car jostled forward and his head whipped back a tad.  A smile crept across the boy's face.  He laid back for a while.  But when the cars started moving forward again, he leaned up and began peering over the front bumper again.  Reprobate!  The sign clearly says "No Bumping."

Stay tuned . . . more Disney vignettes to come in the near future.