Friday, May 19, 2017

How not to be a grouchy old person @Liz Flaherty

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but since the granddaughter I mentioned is--gasp--21, it's been a while. 

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." - James Taylor

In the seventies, Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages. Since it was a period of life for me that involved three children, one husband, a house, and a full-time job, I didn’t read the book. It didn’t sound very entertaining, and believe me, if I had the time to read in those days, I wanted the subject matter to be entertaining. 

Now, in the last decade of the century, I still haven’t read the book, but I do think more about passages these days. A death in our family of someone who left us too soon, before his life was even in full summer, caused some of this introspection. The births of my second, third, and fourth grandchildren in scarcely more than a year created more.
The passages make me sad.

I followed a school bus the other day and thought about all the years my kids rode a bus. For the entire 13 years I had students in this school system, they had the same driver. The bus I followed the other day didn’t even slow down when it passed our house and the driver who kept my children safe all those hundreds of days — not counting the ones my little darlings skipped — has passed away.

This morning, eating breakfast in a restaurant, I watched a father with his four children. He drank his coffee, ordered for the two youngest, kept the baby from taking unscheduled flights out of the high chair, talked with his kids, and chatted with people at other tables, all without blinking an eye.

Unless you’re a caregiver or a teacher, I suppose being able to keep up with a horde. Somewhere, somehow, the ability to think about all those different things and keep track of reaching fingers and kicking feet while still maintaining a grip on both a coffee cup and some semblance of reality passes you by. of kids isn’t a marketable skill when you’ve finished raising your family, and after a while you lose it.

For all of the at least 100 years that my kids were adolescents, I thought teenagers were the smartest, neatest, funniest people in the world. The times I spent with them were some of the most productive and memory-producing years of my life. I still think spectator entertainment doesn’t come any better than high school sports and that most clothing looks better on 17-year-olds than on anyone else on earth. But nowadays I catch myself thinking things like “why doesn’t he wash that hair?” or “I wonder if he can speak a complete sentence without using a four-letter-word” or, worst of all, “if that was my kid, I’d — 

I’d what? Who am I to criticize anyone’s parenting skills when I made every mistake there was to make at least once, more often two or three times? Is this what passages do? Do they turn you into a grouchy old person who forgets how things were once upon a time?
I guess, if you let them, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

But they can do other things, too.

I recently saw both of our sons dressed up at the same time. They wore suits, the one with a beard had it neatly trimmed, their shoes were freshly polished. While we sat, necessarily quiet, I didn’t have to tell either of them to stop kicking the chair in front of him, to stop whispering, to not smack his gum, to leave his brother alone. Their father did not have to point the finger that promised trouble later on or deliver on that promise. When we took them to lunch and they both ordered beer, I didn’t feel compelled to deliver the alcohol lecture I’d perfected over the years.

When we separated later in the day, I told them, “I love you. Be careful driving home,” just as I have told them since the first time they palmed a set of car keys, but the pressure was off. Although I love my children more and am prouder of them than I’ve ever been, they are no longer my responsibility.

And when I held my newest granddaughter and counted her fingers and toes as I counted my endless blessings, I looked at her wonderful, tired mother and thought about how she was just beginning.

I’m glad it’s her instead of me. I’m glad that when the baby stiffens up and her face turns red and she lets out a wail, I can hand her to one of her parents and say, “Here. Do something.” I’m glad that although she fits my arms like a warm and comfortable sweater, I’m not cold when I hand her back.

A few years ago, I had to drive my youngest son to his home an hour away during a snowstorm. It was black dark and the roads were getting nasty. When I let my son out of the car, he leaned back in before closing the door, looking at me in the glare of the interior light, and said, “I love you. Be careful driving home.”

Did I say passages made me sad? Maybe, sometimes. And sometimes not. Sometimes the discovery that things have indeed passed can brighten a gloomy day or brighten a dark night. It might even keep you from becoming a grouchy old person who forgets too much.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Deepening the dash @Liz Flaherty

Unlike the person I've quoted below, I do hate funerals. My faith tells me they are celebrations of beginnings, but the truth is they still feel like endings to me. That being said, I think things are different now--we laugh during funerals without trying to hide it, because the memories people leave behind are often both precious and funny; we really do celebrate the lives of those we've lost

Photo by Annette Wise

Some people hate funerals. I find them comforting. They hit the pause button on life and remind us that it has an end. Every eulogy reminds me to deepen my dash, that place on he tombstone between our birth and our death. - Regina Brett

Do you ever wonder what people will think and say about you after you've died? I never did, either, until today.

My aunt died this week at 97. She'd lived a full and happy life, working outside the home and remaining childless during a time when those just weren't the things to do. She loved and cherished her husband, but after he died, she carried on for over 30 years without him.

Today was her funeral, and the minister who officiated there had never met her. She wasn't a churchgoer, and since she came from out of state, the man who spoke the usual words of comfort and parting was a stranger both to her and to most of us who attended. I thought he did a great job. But the one who did the best job was the one who signed the card accompanying a floral arrangement with the words, "For the best friend I ever had."

On the way home from the cemetery, while the mud dried on my high heels and I tried to keep the hem of my dress coat off the not-very-clean floor of my car, I thought about those words. And, since I've spent the last 24 years of my life, since the day my first child was born, feeling either guilty or worried or both, I got worried about the whole situation.

Would my sons remember that I drove them to at least 10,000 games and practices or would they remember that sometimes I yelled at them because I was just too tired to cope one more minute?

Would my daughter remember all the fun we had shopping and talking and being together or would she only recall the times I'd grounded her "for life, not one minute less"?

Would they remember the movies I took them to or the ones I didn't?

Would my husband mourn me forever, which I wouldn't want him to do, or forget me in the space of time it took him to learn how to buy his own socks, which I wouldn't want him to do, either?

Would my mother-in-law remember how much I loved her or would she remember my hit and miss (mostly miss) housekeeping, so opposite of hers?

Would people say, "she tried hard," or would they say, "she never could get anything quite right"?

Fortunately, it's only about six miles from the cemetery to my house, so that was all the time I had for worrying about things like that. But I thought about them all evening, as I thought about my aunt. I thought about the eulogies I've heard--both the ones that moved me to tears and the ones that left me cold and wondering who or what on earth the officiant was talking about.

It's nothing you can control. You just do the best you can and hope it's enough. You don't, or at least you shouldn't, worry about things like the ones I fretted about today in the car. You should worry about what you do while you're alive.

And if you have a best friend, maybe you should send them some flowers or a card and tell them how you feel about them. Soon. Because while it was a lovely eulogy to my aunt, they are words that should be spoken among the living, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Such are the dreams... @Liz Flaherty

This was written for Mother's Day of 1991. It wasn't my last Mother's Day column, but it was my first. It's kind of nice to know I still like it, although I'm not sure I remember the original dreams--the reality was so much better. What do you think?

"She looks in the mirror and stares at the wrinkles that weren't there yesterday..." - Chris Gantry

When she was young, before she had formula stains on her clothes or stretch marks or crows feet, your mother had dreams. In those dreams, she was a singer or dancer or writer or CEO. She wore designer clothes and her hair was always perfect and she had the kind of checkbook balance that dreams are made of. Her plans for vacation never included McDonald's or Motel 6.

For many mothers, there was a man in those dreams. He was always strong and handsome and intelligent and sensitive. He never forgot important dates, never left dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, never for one moment considered anything in life to be as important as the woman whose dreams he was inhibiting.

Sometimes there were children in the dreams, children who behaved well and wore miniature designer clothes that stayed clean. Children who ate their vegetables without complaint and did their homework without fail and who never watched tasteless television or hid dirty magazines under their beds. Even after your mother gave birth to these children (painlessly--we're dreaming here) she maintained her figure and her perfect hair and flawless skin that defied crows feet to appear.

Her home was a portrait of good taste and comfort. In her dreams its plumbing was never iffy, its windows never leaky, its floors never sloped and scarred with the passage of time. The furniture shone with the patina of quality and good wax. The beds were made each morning and the pillows arranged in the artful disarray the magazines make look easy. The house was even paid for.

It is said that dreams die hard.

Not for most of us. For most of us, they change rather than die. We wear what is comfortable and what we can afford, we have bad hair days and not-so-bad hair days, and time leaves its obvious footprints on our skin. Instead of glamorous careers, most of us have jobs we may or may not like but which help keep the checkbook balance in the black. Not the very black, maybe, but close enough to keep the wolves from the door.

The men in our lives are different from what we dreamed, as fallible and faulty as we ourselves are. Although on any given day, they will probably have some of the characteristics of the men of our dreams, chances are good they'll never have all of them at once.

Which brings us to the children of our dreams. Speaking for myself only, I must say that mine were not. If one of them happened to be behaving well, the other two probably weren't. They dressed okay, but were seldom clean at any point in time previous to their 12th birthdays, when they suddenly started taking two showers a day and setting up housekeeping in front of the bathroom mirror. They did homework spasmodically and subsisted on diets that even now the memory of makes my stomach clench. They watched, read, and listened to every single thing I ever didn't want them to.

They turned the house of my dreams into what seemed at times like a three-ring circus. There was no single day in which every bed in the house was made or every dish clean at the same time. The house has leaky windows and iffy plumbing and a few floors that would feel right at home on a ski lift. The patina on the furniture is marred by marks from compasses and baseball cleats and the rubber soles of size 12 basketball shoes.

There is nothing I would change. Nothing.

When I was young, I had dreams. Somewhere in the passage of time, those dreams underwent changes, but they all--every one of them--came true. I hope yours did, too.

Happy Mother's Day to us all, and thanks, Mom. Both of you.

My mom, Evelyn Shafer
Duane's mom, my other mom, Mary Farrell

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

...let's keep dancing... @Liz Flaherty

This is from 2005, I think--Duane and I were both still working. I thought my writing days were winding down (that was about 10 books ago) and I was on the reinvention wheel once again. I'm not sure I've ever gotten off. Anyone else been on that ride?

"If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing..." 

from "Is That All There Is?" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, sung by Peggy Lee.

There are times — long, achy days of a bad knee and raging sinuses and throbbing finger joints — when I resent that I’m 50some and tumbling inexorably down the wrong side of the middle age slope. Is this all there is? I whine, channeling Peggy Lee. Have I worked all these years so I could afford to go more places and see and do more things just to learn I’m too old, too sore, and too damn tired?

I have time, now that I no longer preside over carpools, hold down bleachers, or operate a short-order kitchen and 24-hour laundry, to read all I want to. I have stacks of books and magazines beside my chair, along with a strong reading lamp, a spot for my coffee cup, and a blanket to cover my cold feet. However, if I sit in one spot for more than 15 minutes, I fall asleep. Most of my reading these days is done in the car, where I feed CDs of my to-be-read list into the player and “read” all the way to work and back. I love audio books, and listening to them makes my commute downright enjoyable, but there’s something lacking without the reading lamp, the cup, and the blanket.

Now that tuition, six-boxes-of-cereal weeks, and expensive shoes and jeans are in my past, I could, if I was interested, buy much nicer clothing for myself. But gravity and years of eating too much and exercising too little have made buying clothes a nightmare instead of a pleasure.

At this stage of the game, we could spend our vacations in exotic places, where my husband could play golf as often as he wanted and I could lie in the sun reading and sipping drinks that come with straws, spoons, and umbrellas. Except my skin is already dry and taking on a leathery consistency and reading in the sunlight gives me a headache. Right before I fall asleep, that is.

There is time to write nowadays, especially in the lengthening evenings of spring. But I’m no longer sure I have anything to say. I used to think — only to myself, thank goodness — that I’d never have writer’s block because I was way too full of hot air to ever run out of words. But the hot air has flattened and stilled and, in full panic mode now, I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.

And then there are other times.

I spent a week in Vermont with my son’s family. While my year-old grandson’s parents worked, I got to spend my days with him. We crawled around on the floor, played with noisy toys, and squealed with laughter at nothing and everything. I read to him and he listened and watched my face with his father’s bright blue eyes before falling asleep in my arms.  I’d push back the recliner and pull the quilt his mother had made over us both and we’d nap together in warm and sweet contentment.

Another of my grandsons comes here on Thursday evenings while his brothers have Cub Scout meetings. He’s newly housebroken and toddler-verbal and has his grandfather and me firmly wrapped around his sticky little finger. The half bath in our house is now his, since it’s small and so is he, and the full bath is mine, which leaves grandpa without one. This is okay, though. Grandpa can use Nana’s. If he asks first.

Each day for the last week I have walked my couple of miles and my knee has not protested. My hands, though stiff and a little swollen, have not ached. The roar of my sinuses has quieted to a dull murmur. The finches are putting on their bright yellow summer coats as they jabber at the feeders. Everywhere I look, lilies and crocuses and spiky green shoots are lightening the landscape. They’re brighter now than they were in my 20s, when I was too busy to look at them properly.

This morning, as I drove to work, the quarter moon hung huge and orange in the eastern sky. God’s thumbnail. Beautiful. I opened the car window and breathed deep of the soft pre-dawn air.

I’m grateful one more time that I no longer smoke. It’s been three and a half years, though I hardly ever count anymore, and there is an almost spiritual joy in having beaten it.

It’s not so bad after all, this wrong side of the slope, where the colors are brighter and sharper and scents are sweeter and laughter is like music and grandchildren — anyone’s; they don’t have to be yours — are your reward for the difficult climb up the other side. Sometimes it’s almost … yes, it really is … better than it used to be. Yeah, Peggy, that’s all there is, and sometimes … most times … it’s enough.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Bathroom wars

This was written in December of 1992, I think, but I'm not sure. The numbers don't always add up right. We've gone up a half-bath since then and I've given up combing my hair in front of the toaster, but it's good to know it's still there for back-up when the kids come home to visit.

For the past 14 years, we've lived in a big old farmhouse back a bumpy lane. It is the perfect house for us, with plenty of bedroom space, a laundry room that doesn't require me to climb steps with the 15 or so loads of clothes I wash each week, and a kitchen where people like to congregate. It also has one teensy, tiny, hole-in-the-wall bathroom.

When a house contains three teenagers and two adults, which this one did for a number of years, that one bathroom makes for a lot of ugliness.

Regardless of groundless rumors and old wives' tales, men rather than women are bathroom hogs. After all this time of brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink and combing my hair in front of the four-slice toaster, I feel qualified to make such a dramatic statement. In the time it takes for my husband or one of my sons to wash his feet, my daughter and I can both take a shower; shave our legs; wash, dry, and style our hair; and read a chapter in the book that always lies on the back of the john.

The men of the house, naturally enough, deny this. It is easy for them to do so, as they have not spent entire days of their lives sitting on the stairs outside the bathroom door praying for the little room's occupant to come out on a wave of steam and Irish Spring so that they can make a mad dash for it before their father or son or brother appears to take up residence for the next 45 minutes. (Yes, that's really one sentence. My writing's come along some since then.)

It was terrible in the days when none of the kids drove and we all actually went places together. The scenario went something like this.

4:00 PM. I say, "I'd better take my shower and get ready to go."

My husband looks at his watch. "We don't have to be there for three hours."

Like any other idiot, I agree and decide to wait.

4:01 PM. First son takes shower.

4:46 PM. Second son takes shower.

5:31 PM. Husband takes shower.

6:16 PM. Daughter takes shower.

6:30 PM. First son goes into bathroom to comb hair. He is joined by second son and their father.

6:45 PM. Family gets into car to leave. Mother is still dirty and isn't wearing any makeup. Daughter is combing her hair in the car. She smacks a brother in the eye with a brush-driven elbow and third world war ensues. Husband and sons look very nice. Mother is ticked off. Big deal. What else is new?

It's not so bad anymore, with one of the sons grown and with a bathroom of his own and the younger two away at college. Since I get up at 3:30 in the morning, it's usually no problem if I stay in the bathroom for a whole 20 minutes if I want.

But then Christmas break came along. I got up the other morning and stumbled in my usual way into the living room, trying to get my glasses on straight and find my way to the coffeepot.

And there is my younger son, on the couch in front of the television. When he saw me, he flinched, never having realized people really looked like that in the morning, then he got up, turned off the TV, and greeted me.

And went into the bathroom.

I brushed my teeth at the kitchen sink, combed my hair in front of the toaster, and dressed in the laundry room. Sometimes there's no sense in fighting the battle when losing the war is a sure thing.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The silence of banning books

This happened in 1991. After all these years, I can hardly believe it came to pass, but it did--book-banning really happened at our school. It made me know then that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. I said then that we had to choose our battles--we still do. I wish I was better at choosing them. I wish I'd fought this one harder.

“Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” ― Stephen Chbosky

My son came home from school the other day and told me that someone had submitted a list to the powers that be at his school, requesting that books named on that list be eliminated from the school library. Apparently, the person who made the list did not want his or her child reading those books.

That's fine by me, but don't tell my child he can't. Or the girl down the road that she can't. Or all the other kids in the school that they can't.

Books in school libraries are chosen by people who know children, like children, and want what is best for children. Their choices are not always perfect, but they are made with the people in mind who are going to be reading the books. If they chose with the idea that they were going to please everyone, their choices would be a lot easier.

But the library's shelves would be bare.

The Bible would be gone. Mark Twain would be gone. Judy Blume would be gone. Nathaniel Hawthorne would be gone. Dr. Seuss, Margaret Mitchell, and, of course, Stephen King would not be allowed through school doors. Because they all offend someone, sometime, somehow.

I personally can't stand Stephen King's books. He cares the bejesus out of me and keeps me awake at night. So I don't read them. But I have kid who does, and he finds things in Stephen King's writing that I can't find and don't want to take the time to look for simply because I don't like being scared. (Note in 2017: In 2001, Stephen King wrote my favorite book on writing of all time, called On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft--go figure.) 

A young lady named Christy Martin recently had a "Student View" published in the Peru Daily Tribune that made a lot of sense to me. It concerned the labeling and banning of certain records, most notably those by the group 2 Live Crew. The statistics quoted in the article supported informative labeling, but "banned the ban."

Books, like records, are often "insulting, repulsive, offensive, sexist, and utterly distasteful," as Miss Martin said, but it is never up to one person or one special interest group or one church congregation to decide for everyone. Let them be labeled like movies and records, if necessary, but don't try to ban them.

It is most certainly within parents' rights to demand that their children not be required to read material they do not approve of and it is the school's responsibility to honor these demands, but let it stop there.

My children all read Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War in school. I read it when they did, all three times, and never did learn to like it, but they did. At least one parent I know requested that his children read an alternative selection and his request was honored. It was enough.

I told my kids I didn't want anything by 2 Live Crew in the house, just as my mom never let me play the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" at home. I found out that a 2 Live Crew tape has been in my son's room for a couple of years now, just as "Louie, Louie" became one of my favorites. I can't help but wonder, if I'd never said a word pro or con, if my kids weren't smart enough to decide about 2 Live Crew on their own, and I can't help but wonder if Mom shouldn't have listened to the Kingsmen and to me before banning "Louie, Louie" from the house, thereby practically forcing me to embrace it as a rock and roll legend to be forever loved and defended.

But it is my house, and if I find 2 Live Crew offensive, it is okay for me to ban it--or at least try to. If my mother thought "Louie, Louie" was a dirty song, it was all right for her to ban that in her house, too.

But not in your house. That's your business. And not in the school attended by my children. That's my business.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tales of the prom...

I don't have a date on this but I think it was 1991. It was my first column for The Peru Tribune, the first time the Window Over the Sink officially opened. Things have changed, of course, including my writing, but the memories are still warm.

Well, it's here. Oh, boy, am I thrilled. It is, after all, every woman's dream to be the mother of a son attending the prom. Or even better, she could be the mother of a daughter attending the prom. I've been both.

It doesn't pay.

"I've never in my life owned and outfit that cost as much as the tux we're renting," I told my son the other day, "And I wear my clothes for a hundred years; you're only wearing this sucker for one night and you're just going to fling the jacket over the back of the chair and spill punch on the shirt."

Last year, when it was my daughter and it was her last high school prom and I was feeling sentimental, I told her not to worry about how much her dress cost. And she didn't. However, when she swished into the living room in shimmering folds of red satin, I did mention that for all that money I thought the dress should at least have a top.

When my oldest son attended his first prom, resplendent in white tie and tails, I told him he looked like an ice cream man and asked where his little truck with a bell on it was parked.

Kids today have no sense of humor.

The prom wouldn't be so bad if they didn't have to go out to dinner, too. I asked my son where he and his date were going.

"She's not real picky about stuff," he said. "We could probably go to McDonald's."

"Great," I said happily.

"But we won't," he added, and then he told me where he did want to go. 

So much for retirement.

And then there's the after-prom. Two of my kids have gone to King's Island for after-prom. If they'd only let me know about their plans ahead of time, they could have skipped the prom and we could have bought King's Island for them instead.

We have a discussion every year that a son attends a prom about what car said son will drive.

Not his own. Heaven forbid.

Not mine. It's old and dirty and smells like smoke and has junk all over the back seat.

Which leaves his father's.

Okay, fine, it's prom night. No problem. Go ahead and wash it and clean it out and use it and have a good time.

Guess who ends up washing it and cleaning it out. Right the first time. The man who owns it and the woman who married him for better or for worse but had no idea at the time that kids were so finicky about other people's dirt since they were never finicky about their own.

And did you know nobody goes home on prom night? Did you know that if Dad's car comes up the driveway before dawn, the prom was obviously a failure? Do you know how hard it is to sleep when there are a gazillion kids out there staying out all night doing God knows what but you sure hope He's watching? Do you know what it's like if you have to work the next day? You spend the day walking around like a zombie and saying things like, "Oh, yes, he had a great time," and "She looked so pretty in the dress I didn't even mind that we don't get to take a vacation this year."

But then they're home, and the prom is over. The dress hangs in a bag at the back of a closet--your closet, because hers is too full--or the tux is returned to the store and the explanation made for the spilled punch. In a few weeks, the prom pictures arrive--both the red-eyed snapshots you took and the professional poses from the dance itself.

They're beautiful. Not the pictures so much as the people in them.

And the car's all right. Just a flower petal here and there to show who its occupants were.

The money could have been spent in a lot worse places. The vacation spot will still be there next year, but the kid may not.

Because they grow up on you, quicker than the mind can grasp, and there are no more proms.

I'll miss them.

(Note in 2017. I was right--I do miss them. But I must admit, it's more fun with the grandkids--I get to see the pictures and laugh at the stories, but I sleep all night on prom night and they drive someone else's car.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

On being retired...

Continuing my revisiting of things written long ago, this one was from March of 2011. In the six years since then, I can say honestly that I still have trouble saying No, cooking lost its charm early on, I still have calendar issues, routine can become a rut if you're not careful, and that 15 minutes is plenty for housework. Part-time jobs are fun and I have one and no matter how much stuff you get rid of, more grows in its place. I can also say without qualification that I love being retired, but that the learning curve mentioned below continues to steepen.

I like learning, which is a good thing, because there’s a definite learning curve to being retired.

First thing you need to figure out, said my friend Cindy, is to say No. If the request is for something you don’t want to do, just don’t do it. This would be a whole lot easier, I’ve discovered, if I didn’t want to do everything at least once. So far, I haven’t had to say No because I haven’t wanted to. (Except for when another friend, Debby, suggested skydiving. I have a vein of cowardice that runs full width and very deep.)

Second thing on the short list of learning is to make a list. If you live in the country, as I do, and don’t intend to move inside city limits, as I don’t, you need to make a list of Things To Do before you go to town. Filling the car with gas takes too much of a retirement check to even think of driving 26 miles round trip for only one thing. Usually, when I get home, I will give my husband all the details of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. The other day, I just said, “I stopped at eight places!” and started to tell him what they were. Duane said that was good, but he didn’t particularly care to hear about all eight of them. I don’t know what his problem was.

Third, in addition to making a list, make sure you keep a calendar. (While you’re at it, remember where the calendar is.) I keep one in my purse and one on the laundry room wall. What is unfortunate is that sometimes the information on both calendars doesn’t jive and I end up needing to be two places at once. I managed this just fine when the kids were growing up (refer to an old column—I’ve told you about this way too often), but I’m not so good at it anymore.

Fourth, establish a routine. I only say this because I’m almost certain it’s a good idea. But I haven’t done it yet as I’ve discovered that not having a routine is really fun.

Fifth, be careful what you commit to. I told Duane that when I was retired, I would devote 15 minutes a day to housework. This is not a joke; it is an illustration of just how much I don’t like “domestic engineering.” At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I will say I have stuck to that. Some days, like the ones when I clean out a junk drawer, I’ve nearly doubled the 15 minutes. Other days, I kind of stretch out how long it takes to make the bed because I really don’t want to do anything else that has to do with…you know…housework. When I get the aforementioned routine established, I’m going to cut back to 10 minutes.

Sixth, when you wake up and it’s snowing, it’s perfectly all right to roll over and go back to sleep. Or get up and drink coffee and not feel guilty. Either one works. You can also do this when it’s not snowing.

Seventh, cooking is fun when you’re retired. So is looking up recipes and deciding maybe you’ll try them later. Or not.

Eighth, it’s amazing how much stuff you can consign to Goodwill or Salvation army in 15 minutes. And if you get the bag into the car to deliver before someone else gets home, he’ll never miss it. You can put it at the end of your list of errands you ran while you were saving gas, and he will have stopped listening before you get to, “I gave away the jeans you haven’t worn since 1977,” anyway.

Ninth, if your mind wanders and you can’t remember what you were going to say next, it’s okay to just…uh…

Till next time.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hey, Mom...

I wrote this in 2010 and just happened upon it. I'm posting it here because today's Mom's birthday and because breast cancer is still a formidable enemy. Thanks for reading

My mother died in September of 1982. She raised five children to adulthood and buried a little girl at three, something she never got over. It took having children of my own to realize that no one ever does. She was a good housekeeper, made the best cookies and homemade bread imaginable, and had a way with potato soup. Although she worked at the instrument factory in Elkhart until she married Dad, she didn’t work outside the home again until we were grown and gone, and then she was in demand as a caregiver.

Ours was not the kind of mother-daughter relationship you normally read about. We disappointed each other often. We argued a lot. I never seemed to please her, so after while, I stopped trying. I was in the midst of being a wife and a mother and working a job and in the process of doing that, I was a terrible daughter. Even all these many years later, it’s hard to type that. Hard to admit it.

It wasn’t that we never had peace. We did. We laughed together sometimes. When she was ill, I took her for treatments once in a while, though not often enough, and stopped for lunch at places she liked. The last words I ever said to her that I was sure she heard were that I loved her and would see her later. She said, “Don’t go. It’s going to be so long,” and those words haunt me still. Because even though she asked me to stay, I didn’t.

My first book was published in 1999 and I was so excited I could hardly stand it, but I sat and held the book and cried because she hadn’t lived to see it. “I wish she knew,” I said to my husband, and Duane said, “She does.” I hope he was right. My faith says he was, but my inner voice just reminds me that I wasn’t a good daughter.

I was in my early 30s when Mom died. When my kids approached that age, I went into a private panic because what if history repeated itself? I wasn’t nearly ready to leave them. I still had things to tell them, things to show them, advice to offer that they might not want but would listen to cheerfully before disregarding.

You don’t stop missing your mother with the passage of time. The gap in your life that was left by her leaving doesn’t fill up with other things. It loses its sharp edges, but it’s still there.

Why do I suddenly feel compelled to write about my mom, something I’ve never done a lot of? Her birthday was in April, Mother’s Day in May, the anniversary of her passing a month ago yesterday, so why now?

Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

It’s time to make an appointment for your mammogram if you haven’t already had one. If you can’t afford it, call your doctor’s office. Yes, I know. A federal medical panel determined you don’t really need a mammogram yet, and even if you’re already getting them, they said you don’t need to do it as often.

I don’t care. I don’t care what they say. Get one anyway. I was still in my 30s when I had a biopsy. Thankfully, it was benign, but the lump showed up in the mammogram I had, not because I found it on my own.

The U. S. Postal Service sells Breast Cancer Research stamps. They’re pretty stamps, they’re a reminder to everyone who notices one on an envelope, and they help a slew of people. At least in October, you might buy a sheet. You could stop in at the post office on the way to your mammogram.

If you know someone who’s doing the Breast Cancer Walk, support them. Pledge money, pledge time, make the walk yourself if you have the time, health, and resources.

Breast cancer isn’t just the disease of the month. Even though research and improved drugs have made its statistics somewhat less terrifying, it still manages to reach every family you know.

Yes, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but once it’s touched your family, you’re aware of it forever. Mom may have died in 1982, but she was ill for a long time before that. Although there were good times in the last seven years of her life, there were horrific ones, too. Even if you were a bad daughter, even if you’re an incurable optimist, when you remember those horrific times and how someone you loved suffered, it twists you up with a grief you can’t get enough mammograms or buy enough stamps or walk far enough to diminish.

So that’s why I wrote about my mom. To help keep you aware. Maybe to talk you into making that appointment or that donation. And to tell her I’m sorry I wasn’t a better daughter. If I had it to do over again, I would be.

But sometimes there aren’t any do-overs. I guess I wanted to remind you of that, too.

Have a good week. Make that appointment.

Till next time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"...the price is cheap..."

“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite

This article was in the local paper, The Peru Tribune, last fall. Nothing has changed since I wrote it, so here it is if you missed it. Thanks for coming by.

It’s about the library.

You know where it is—it’s the big old building on the corner of Main and Huntington. It’s been remodeled in the past year so that the children’s floor is bright and cheery and the tables and desks on the adult floor are refinished and waiting for you. There’s room between the stacks to get around and plenty of places to sit and read the paper and decide if you really do want to read the book by a new author in your hands or if you want to stick to the tried-and-true.

If you have things to look up, there’s a handy-dandy reference room back there to do it in. There are computers for everyone’s use and all kinds of paper-and-ink books you can lose yourself in. More tables and chairs and pens and scrap paper to make notes on. One of those books, the 1875 History of Miami County, led to my third or fourth book (you forget after while), Home to Singing Trees. Most of the history in my book came straight from that other big one, only I used my own words. (To have used someone else’s is plagiarism. I learned that word early on. In the library.)

I’ve written something like 14 books now. Some with a large publisher, some with a smaller one, some released on my own. Writing books is one of those things that’s kind of like a good pizza—it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. You probably won’t get rich, but you’re going to have a good time and you’re guaranteed some satisfaction that comes from inside.

Before I wrote those books—and while I was writing them—I wrote a column for the Peru Tribune, “Window Over the Sink.” It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing and I’d still be doing it if the climate in newspapering hadn’t changed. I wrote feature articles, too, and had a few stories in magazines.

I didn’t go to college. I didn’t “know” anyone. But I had good teachers—thank you, North Miami—and I had the library. If it hadn’t been for those two components, my life would have been very different.

Would it have been ruined? Nope. I’d still have my family, maybe the job I retired from, our home. Would it have been less? Yeah, I think so.

I wouldn’t have written 14 books (and still counting). I wouldn’t have written a couple hundred newspaper columns. I wouldn’t have spoken to other would-be writers and said “yes, you can.” Because I wouldn’t have known it. I learned it from those teachers, whose names I can still recite to you 50 or so years later if you want to hear them, and from what’s inside buildings like the one at the corner of Main and Huntington in Peru, Indiana.

It’s easy to get a library card. Just take your ID in and fill out an application. And, if you live outside the city limits, pay $75.


Now, personally, I don’t think that’s a big price for a year of being able to borrow books, audio-books, movies, and music from the library. However, that’s just me. If my three kids still lived at home, it would be $300 for the four of us and the truth is we probably wouldn’t have done it even if it meant they got to borrow books on their very own card and they got to take part in a Summer Reading Program that’s just like that pizza I mentioned earlier—all it’s cracked up to be. However, kids are weird; they have to eat and wear clothes and their shoe sizes change every two weeks--$225 for their library cards would have been a prohibitive expense.

But if we paid a tax to the library the way city residents do, it wouldn’t be. I’m just like everyone else in that I don’t want to pay more taxes, but the cost of supporting the library would be pretty small if it were spread out. And the payoff would be huge.

I know—yes, I really do—that there are those of you who won’t want to pay a library tax because you’re not going to use the library. You are the same ones who don’t want to pay school taxes because you don’t have kids in school. Well, just as I thank you for helping pay those school taxes so that all of those who attend county schools can do so, I would also thank you for paying a tax that would grant library privileges to county residents.

The kid over there in the third row in English class? He’ll thank you, too, when he’s writing his fourteenth book and his two-hundredth column because you and the other people who cared about the kids in this county paid those taxes. He’ll talk to kids in classrooms and library meeting rooms and he’ll say “yes, you can” because he came from somewhere that cared enough to take care of their own.

Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Looking back...and forward

I don’t think I can write another word.
            It has been the winter of discontent. Of family illnesses and surgeries, and as February finally came to an end, loss. But time and publishing wait on no one, and my new book, Every Time We Say Goodbye, came out April 1. You all know what happens then—you spread yourself around, holding up a figurative hand with a figurative book in it and saying Here I am! You blog, you sign books, you do giveaways, you talk wherever anyone will listen, and you keep smiling even on the days you feel heartbreak nipping at your heels.
            I’m working on two manuscripts, which I hardly ever do, and making sketchy progress on them both, because I tend to think too often that, as I said above, I can’t write another word.
            But it’s a pretty day here today. I’m looking out the window beside my desk at the awakening lawn. My husband mowed it over the past couple of days, all three acres of it, and the grass lies in bright green beautiful strips.
            That he mowed one at a time. When the wind was blowing. When his hip hurt. Or his knee hurt. While he grieved the loss of his mother. Or while there were a thousand other things he wanted to do.
            That is the way of it then, isn’t it, when we feel as though one more word or one more strip of grass is one too many. We just go ahead and do it. One at a time.
            When I visited Roses of Prose in January of 2015, I’d just signed a new contract, and I said, “The book...was shockingly difficult to write. It took ten months or so, not a really long time for me, but it seemed longer.” What a blessing it is that now that the book is out with a different and better title than I gave it and a cover I’ve grown used to, I don’t remember how hard it was to write. I don’t remember how many days I thought I’d never finish it. I don’t remember, although I know it’s true, that I wrote it one word at a time even when I thought I couldn’t.

I wrote that a year ago for . I was so surprised to see that come up on Facebook because this past winter has been a hard one, too, followed by an angst-ridden spring. Yet the grass is once again full of lovely green strips. A new Christmas Town novella will be out in October and a new Heartwarming Romance in December. 

We survive these days and seasons, don't we? They are what make us who we are. And I will do better. I will not let myself have another season of discontent. Life is too short.

I wish you joy.