Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I simply remember...

I made this list in 2015 when--like right now--I couldn't think of anything to write about and because I love the song "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. It was my favorite ten things right at that moment. I didn't include my husband or family because that went without saying.  Still does.

When I found this, I thought I would make a new list, one that would reflect how much my feelings had altered in the past few years. They have, after all, been difficult years, with loss and unsettling changes making my cocoon of contentment really uncomfortable sometimes.  Of course things would be different now, wouldn't they?

1. Laughing babies
2. Teenage people
3. Writing the first chapter
4. Old friends
5. New friends
6. Sunrise & sunset
7. Hot tea
8. Clothes that have been washed so often they stay soft no matter what
9. The day a pre-ordered book shows up on my Kindle
10. Knowing in my heart there will be joy in the morning, even though I'm not sure what morning it will be.

So, here it is 2018. And my list still stands. Those changes I mentioned above--many of them anyway--have been difficult. I haven't wanted to make them. I don't like some of them. So it's nice that those ten things--and the husband and family--are the same. 

Have a great week. Share your favorites!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Get Up, Get Dressed...Joe DeRozier's Here

Joe DeRozier makes doughnuts. And fritters. And things with Bavarian cream in them. And braids--he talked about his braids so much his daughter asked him to stop. Just the mention of a pastry he's made makes my mouth water. I've never met him, although I've grinned at him through the door behind the counter in Aroma, the coffee shop on Broadway in Peru, and he's waved back. But I love his writing, so I asked him to do guest posts sometimes. He didn't say yes. Or no. But finally he said I could cut and paste from Facebook if I wanted to. So this morning that's what I've done. He and I hope you enjoy it. And if you're ever in Peru, Get Up, Get Dressed, Get DeRozier's. Thanks, Joe.

I'm in bed by eight pm.
My alarm goes off at 12:01 am. 
Why 12:01? I refuse to get up for work the same day that I went to bed.
I get up, hit Snooze, get back in bed. My puppy growls at me. I wonder for a second whose bed it really is.
I swear I just laid my head on the pillow. My alarm goes off, again. I hear my pup give a loud sigh. That makes me laugh. 
My right ear is bad now. Too many years of hearing the mixer on my right side. WHAP, WHAP, WHAP.
If I lie on my good ear, I can't hear the buzzer.... I should have slept on the good ear.
I wonder if I could set my Keurig in the bedroom. I could hit a button and have coffee before I get up.
Kathy said, no. I don't know why I don't insist. I bet I can beat her arm wrestling.....well, two out of three.
I get up and navigate the stairs. I'm still not real sure since the stroke. Kathy calls it my "episode".
"Episode?" When did I turn 100 years old?!
I get ready for work.... I should say, my loose interpretation of the word, work.
I get to go to the bakery!

I get in my car, and drive down East Fifth. I'll be moving soon, so this very familiar drive will change. That will be sad.
I get to the stop sign and come to a stop.
Why do I completely stop? It's one am. I don't know... I just always do.
I get to the light on Fifth and Broadway and get ready to turn right. The light is always red. I look both ways. No one is out..... no one is ever out.
Sometimes I feel alone.
I turn, then go down my alley. My alley...haha. It SHOULD be my alley by now. I've driven here so, SO many times.
I go to park. I see life! They've been drinking. I keep my head down and get inside.
There's this feeling in here.... I can't explain it, or define how it makes me feel. Almost a completion....or sigh of relief.... that's not it...not entirely.
What will I ever do in my life when I can't do this?
I get a bit choked up thinking about it.
My friends talk about retirement and what they want to do.
But I want to do this.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The best job ever

I'm doing a lot of revisiting this week. Another Mother's Day post will be on https://www.peruindianatoday.com/ tomorrow. They're both old ones, but they're both celebrations of the best job ever. My mother-in-law, Mary Farrell, and my mother, Evelyn Shafer have both left us and there are great empty places where the were, but what blessings memories are!

My sister-in-law Debbie Coleman once said it was the only job she had that she never wanted to quit. I had to admit that I wanted to quit it at least once every single day. The kids probably wanted to fire me at least that often. One of the greatest gratitudes in my life is that we all stuck it out.

Mary Farrell
Mother’s Day has come and gone for another year and I didn’t write anything about it even though writing is what I do. I think about it a lot, think about my mom—gone all these long years—and my mother-in-law, who I’ve loved almost as long as I’ve loved her son and who has loved me back. I think about being a mom and a grandma—it’s just my favorite thing. But Mother’s Day? I’m really glad my kids remember it, tell me they love me, stop by if they’re close by, but mostly I’m glad it’s not
Mary Farrell
confined to one day in May.

I wrote most of this years ago—I’m the rerun queen, you know—but I hope it still says what it did then. I hope it stands up.

Graduation days have always been like Mother’s Day. They were the signal that one of the most important jobs in life-as-a-mom was nearly finished and that she had, at least to some degree, been successful at it. From my own high school graduates, the entire day of graduation was a gift to me. They would much rather have collected their diplomas on the last day of school and cut and run. They were not eager to wear caps and gowns, to see all the relatives at the open house, to stand with their dad and me and have their pictures with us grinning gleefully from either side of them.

Evelyn Shafer
Parents Night during the various sports season is like Mother’s Day. After all, we always get a rose; we get to stand with the kid and grin gleefully while our picture is taken, and we go back to the bleachers safe in the secret knowledge that, bar none, our kid is the best one out there. Oh, she may not make the best grades, and he may not be the best athlete, and she may cause trouble in class from time to time, but overall, he’s the best kid. You know what I mean.

Mother’s Day is when you tell the kid who thinks you’re being bossy, unreasonable, and not quite bright that you love him more than anything else on earth and he tells you he loves you, too and maybe gives you a little one-armed hug if no one’s around.

Mother’s Day is when someone tells your daughter she’s just like you and she just smiles and says, “Thank you.”

Mother’s Day is when the kids have been horrendous brats all day long. They’ve beaten up the neighbor kid who’s half their size, trashed the entire house, and flipped mashed potatoes at the kitchen wall. They’ve broken the Blu-ray player—the one you got their dad for Christmas—and spilled…oh, everything.

After they’ve gone to sleep and you’ve scrubbed the wall and cleaned the worst of the mess in the house and apologized profusely to the neighbors, you check the kids before you go to bed yourself. And they look like angels among their cartoon-character sheets. Their skin is baby’s-bottom soft and flushed with innocence and youth and they’re the best kids ever born and you are so lucky and it’s truly Mother’s Day all over again.

When they’re older and have established their own ideas and thought patterns and don’t agree with anything you say and their favorite things about you are your wallet and your car…yes, even then they will every now and then do something so perfect and so right it brings tears to your eyes. It doesn’t matter what it is—it can be standing firm for something they believe in, defending an underdog with heat and dignity, or confessing to a wrongdoing rather than let someone innocent of it suffer in their place. When it happens, it is absolutely Mother’s Day.

To all who fit the bill, Happy Mother’s Day. Whenever it may be.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Magic moments

This is from August of 2015. It has served as a good reminder to me this week. Although it was first on a writing blog, I think it works okay for the Window, too. Enjoy your moments!

Life is measured in love and positive contributions and moments of grace. 
Carly Fiorina

My thanks to Jenny Crusie for this post. Not that she wrote it or even knows it exists, but she suggested we “take a moment” in another blog, and that's why I’m writing about happy pieces of time.
          Like when someone tells your kid she’s just like you and your kid says, “Thank you.”
          Or when no one’s around and your aloof five-year-old grandkid climbs into the chair with you and stays a while.
          Or when in the manuscript from hell, you get a scene that is so perfect it leaves you laughing, crying, or jumping up and down. Or all three.
          I talk about Happily Ever After a lot. Married 44 years and some, I believe in Happily Ever
After. Every time someone talks about a romance novel without one at its end, I cringe. And it’s not because I think life goes on blissfully and without flaws as long as the protagonists live. I don’t expect their lives to be perfect.
          No, what I expect is that they’ll slam doors, they’ll mumble “I hate you” under their breaths, they’ll think all the way to work about how that night when they get home they’re going to ask for a divorce. They’ll sit alone in the dark and cry sometimes and they’ll envy their friends who always get it right and never have any problems. In their futures there will be the thing said or done that is nearly unforgiveable, there will be grief that brings them to their knees and threatens to swallow them whole, there will be bad days. Oh, Lord, yes, lots of bad days.     
   But at the end of those bad days, someone will always have their back (and probably rub it if they’re feeling particularly tired and vulnerable). They will not be alone in grief. They will be lonely sometimes, but they won’t be alone. Not really. Because someone can finish their sentences and knows how they take their coffee and they probably say “I love you” every day or, at the very least “ditto.”
          And it’s all moments. Even during long, hard days, there are good moments. And during bright, sunshiny ones, there are pinpoints of darkness.
          We went to a wedding this weekend. We were leaving the reception–kind of early—and were halfway to the door of the venue when the DJ started a slow song. Duane turned back and said, “You want to?” and we went back and danced for the first time in years. It was only a moment--or a few of them--but it has made me happy all day.
          Happily Ever After. In moments. I guess that’s why I write romance.
          Have a great week.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The more things change...

This was written in January of 2011. As I too often say when about old things, very little has changed, although politeness and respect have gone so far out the proverbial window we can no longer see them even in the distance. I am appalled, not for the first time, that as a society we are all too eager to fix that which is not broken, but totally unwilling or unable to fix the things that are.

Criticism is just a really bad way of making a request. 

No, I didn’t say it, but I wish I had. Diane Sawyer quoted it from someone she’d interviewed, then pointed a pistol finger at the side of her head and said, “Genius.” She was right.

For the nearly 40 years I’ve been married, I have hated television. Not because I think all TV is bad, but because in our house, it’s on every waking moment of the day. When the house was full of kids and noise, the TV was the loudest noise of all, because not only was it on, people were watching it. From my point of view, which is admittedly only half the equation now and was much less then, nothing that was said on TV was as important as anything that was said between us. This argument has been shot down for 40 years. I have complained about the one-eyed-monster that lives in three rooms of our house and criticized its watchers for…well, you know how long by now.

I, on the other hand, want to read the news. And everything else. I read the newspaper daily, but get most of my news from the Internet. I am annoyed when I want to read a news story and end up instead with a video. If I wanted video, I would watch TV. (Just another argument I’m losing.)

I also like to read for entertainment, not watch TV. Until Duane bought me a Kindle, my books and magazines cluttered every flat surface in the house as well as the bookcases, my car, and several boxes in the attic. Not being particularly neat in any event, this clutter has never bothered me. It has, on the other hand, driven Duane crazy for, yes, 40 years. Before he gave up—as I did with TV—he was critical of my clutter and of the fact that I have to read things to get them; I can’t always absorb what I’m being told.

We have come to an easiness with the passage of time. He turns the TV down, though never off, and tries to listen to me even if what I’m saying lacks importance. I buy my books electronically and try to keep the magazines in semi-neat stacks, though I fail way too often. Because we like each other a lot, we’ve also learned to make some allowances for the other person’s quirks.

I can’t help but wonder if we’d have learned much faster if we’d just asked more often instead of criticizing.

We had elections in November, with all the newly elected people being critical of their predecessors and promising big changes and promising to keep their promises. Within two weeks of swearing in, we’ve seen broken promises and heard constant disparagement of how the new folks are doing the jobs they haven’t even learned how to do yet. The criticisms from both sides of the ideological table are vitriolic and downright mean. Fact-checking is tossed aside in favor of having the loudest voice.

Over the weekend, an Arizona congresswoman was shot. During the same siege, six people died, including a nine-year-old. Before the blood was washed from the scene, before anyone knew if Gabrielle Giffords would live or die, blame, accusations, and criticism were being bandied about like stray bullets.

None of those things do either Ms. Giffords or the rest of us any good. Until we learn to respect each other and each other’s points of view on everything from religion and politics to butter versus margarine, we will neither grow nor grow up. It is not necessary that we agree, nor that we all like each other, though I admit it’s easier when we do.

I said—over and over—that I wasn’t doing New Year’s resolutions because goodness knows history shows I never keep them, but this is one I think I’ll work on. Instead of criticizing, I’m going to try requesting when I want something to be different, and maybe I’ll take a long look in the mirror while I’m at it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

...for laughin', for cryin', for livin' and for dyin'...

The bones of this post are from about three years ago, back when Duane had just gotten his first new knee. Some things have changed--children's hospitals no longer accept most of the things stitched with so much love, my friend's sister-of-the-heart has passed away, and my shark-catching grandson turned 16 this week. But, like always, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as I was inspired by strong women when I wrote this, I am still--never more so than in celebration of the life of one of those women. Rest in Peace, Barbara Bush. Thank you for everything.

I took Duane to have the new-knee staples removed today. The nurse who removed them is beautiful. Blonde, straight white teeth, and a pretty smile. She's been married a year, she and her husband are buying her grandfather's farm, and she wants four children starting as soon as possible. "Is that crazy?" she said, and then answered her own question. "I don't care if it is. Family's important to me. To us."

Night before last, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team brought home the world cup. With skill and dignity and class.

This morning, my daughter-in-law accompanied me when I went walking. We walked faster because she's younger, and she took time to eat raspberries while I huffed and puffed to keep up. I don't think she broke a sweat, but I love her anyway, and it was fun walking with her. I love my sons for a great many things, none more than the daughters-in-law they brought me.

My grandson caught a shark when he went fishing with his dad and brothers off the coast of North Carolina. It wasn't very big, I guess, but sheesh, a shark. His mother--my daughter--said calmly on Facebook that Connor "saved the boat" and provided dinner. Back in Indiana, I'm shrieking, "It's a freaking shark!" His mother undoubtedly looked up the proper way to cook shark.

On June 9, I went to Walmart. It was raining when I went, but, you know, it rained all the time in June. No big deal. But when I left, it was pouring. I'd been waiting inside the entrance doors for about 15 minutes when a pretty young woman offered to help. I said No, I could wait, but she insisted, and she held her umbrella over my cart and me all the way to my car. Which was way across the lot because I don't search out good parking places. (That's one of the things you find yourself doing when you wear a Fitbit.)

I have a friend who goes with a sister-of-her-heart every few weeks while the sister has chemo. They talk and my friend knits and relationships mesh and tighten at the same time as they wait and hope there.

I have other friends who sew and sew and sew for children's hospitals. Blankets, gowns, cancer turbans, stuffed toys that offer comfort and warmth.

There are so many pictures of guys out there with six-pack abs and sexy stubble and maybe some tattoos and soulful expressions. These are the ones who go on the covers of romance novels and that's fine. Though none of my heroes ever really "fit." They wear shirts most of the time and hardly ever look soulful.

But I've realized as I've sat here that those guys on the covers don't motivate me at all. And much as I truly love them, the guys in my books aren't my inspiration, either.

But the heroines, well, that's another story altogether. Those women I listed up here...and others like them? They're my inspiration. They're the ones whose stories I want to tell, the whole laughin', cryin', livin', and dyin' thing.

How about you? Who's your inspiration?

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Other Side

Today's post is thanks to our son, Chris Flaherty, the one who says it's not that that grass is greener on the other side, it's that it's the other side. I'd love to say I always understand that, but I don't. I do understand the part about not fitting in--writers often don't, poor kids often often don't, Democrats in Indiana often don't. The idea, I think, is to get comfortable in the round hole you don't really fit into, but saying that is much easier than doing it. Chris's words--and the eloquent ones of Robert Service--touched me and made me ache. But sharing's a good thing, I'm convinced, even when the sharing is sad. 

Robert Service's poem, "The Men That Don't Fit In" used to make me feel better about myself. When I read it the first time, I realized there must be lots of people who share my struggles. I've always experienced terrible bouts of depression associated with unfulfilled wanderlust and adventure-seeking. I change jobs much too often and as a result have enjoyed very limited professional success. I've basically started over a dozen times. I currently live on a beautiful mountain retreat and have a great job (to most people) with benefits a congressman would envy, yet every single night I dig out my maps, stream national geographic, or browse Zillow or Instagram to see where I want to go or live next. I'm never content. I don't ever need MORE.. just different.
Well, my life is quickly reaching the final stanza of Robert Service's poem and it doesn't make me feel better, anymore. It's actually pretty damned depressing.
So, for all of you who have repeatedly punched happiness or contentment in the face in search of something else, this is for you.

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest. 
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake. 
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last. 
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in. 
Robert W. Service

Friday, April 6, 2018

On being productive.

I love being productive, when I can end a day tired but satisfied with what I've accomplished. When I look back at the days when the kids were all in school, my day looked something like this.

3:30 AM: Get up. Start washer and dryer, put away supper dishes, drink coffee, and get ready for work. Read a chapter of a book while folding the clothes that were in the dryer.

4:20 AM: Go to work. Trip takes 33 minutes. Allow extra seven minutes for emergencies such as flat tires, mountainous snow drifts, and having to stay in the car until “American Pie” stops playing on the radio or a chapter ends in an audio book.

5:00 AM – 1:30 PM: Work day job. Half hour lunch is long enough to return things to stores, pick up things at other stores, get caught by a train, and read another chapter while eating a hot dog from B & K.

1:30 PM: Go home from work. Trip often takes more than 33 minutes because other cars insist on using the road. Pick up things at the store I forgot to get at lunchtime.

2:05 PM – 4:15 PM: Put away the groceries I brought home. Reload washer and dryer and fold the clothes that were in the dryer. Drink coffee. Make the bed. Run the sweeper if the floor feels crunchy. Look at the can of Pledge in consternation, trying to remember why I bought it. Start supper, using mystery meat I defrosted in the microwave. Read a chapter while it’s defrosting. Fall asleep and wake up when Duane comes home. Feel guilty because the house is never clean enough.

5:30 PM – Pick up first child at practice. Five-mile round trip.

5:50 PM – Pick up second child at practice. Five-mile round trip.  

6:20 PM – Pick up third child at practice. Five-mile round trip.

6:30 PM: Explain to children that it would be much easier if they all came home at the same time. They could do their homework while waiting for the last practice to end. Glare back at the resultant blank looks.

6:35 PM – 7:30 PM: Eat supper, drop off assorted children for evening activities. Go home and fall asleep during Jeopardy.

7:30 – 10:00 PM: Dry and fold more clothes, do supper dishes, stuff Pledge can behind everything else so that I can never find it again, notice there’s another Pledge can hidden in the same place. Shower and get ready for bed.

10:00 – 11:00 PM: Pick up children from wherever they’ve been dropped off, not getting out of the car because—didn’t I mention I was ready for bed?

11:00 PM: Go to bed. Intend to read another chapter. Don’t even get the book open. Regret never stopping to smell the roses everyone’s always talking about.

(I must admit that Duane did some of the hauling of kids, but since this is my whine here, I felt perfectly fine leaving that part out.)

My schedule is much different in retirement.

Somewhere between 5:30 and 7:30 AM: Get up. Put clothes in the washer. Go to office. Write. Or not. Play Solitaire. Or not.

9:30 AM or so: Eat breakfast. Put clothes in dryer.

10:00 AM – Noon: Write. Or not. Sew. Or not.

Noon – Eat lunch. Fold clothes and put them away.

12:30 – 2:00 PM: Do whatever I want. Fall asleep in the recliner.

2:00 – 11:00 PM: I’m not exactly sure what happens to the rest of the day, but it’s gone.

I also work part time, I volunteer, I belong to things. Much of the time, I’m busier in retirement than I ever intended to be. Productive? Not so much, and even though it’s taken me seven years to figure it out, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s enough just to smell the roses.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The most valuable thing

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend. - Theophrastus

The other day, I was talking to some people at a craft fair when a pretty young woman heard one of the others mention that I am a writer. She waited till the conversation was over, till I'd been stung by a woman saying, "Oh, yes, I read those when I was about twelve," when I said I wrote for Harlequin. At least, I thought, she didn't ask when I was going to write a real book. Or where the restroom was. I suppose that would have come later.

But I regress. When the conversation ended, the young woman--her name is Whitney--introduced herself and asked about writing and we talked a little bit. She reads "everything," the best kind of reader there is. She was pretty, bright, and interesting. It was fun talking to her. She said someday she wanted to write a book. And someday, when she had time, she was just going to write.

Which led to me giving advice she didn't ask for. Not that I'm a stranger to doing that, but just this one time, I was right to do it.

"Whitney," I said, calling her by name beause I love her name, "don't wait until you have time."

And I know, really I do, that I'm not the first person who ever gave that advice, but it is undoubtedly the best advice I ever gave.

I went on to tell her that I'd written my first three books sitting on bleachers. That
was in truth an exaggeration, but I did do some writing there. And in the car while I waited on kids. And during my lunch hour. And in the early morning hours before work--I had to get up at 3:30 AM anyway, so we're talking really early--I wrote the first draft of One More Summer in 83 days and a lot of that writing was done between 3:00 and 3:30.

Just last week I waxed pompous to my friend Margie, telling her I didn't know how I'd managed writing books and working fulltime all at once. I still don't know, but I do know this. I never had time, so I guess I made time. Thank goodness for coil-bound notebooks and pens that write well.

So, to Whitney, and to any other young writers out there, that's my best piece of advice: make time. My second-best is, when you meet a veteran writer, walk right up and talk to her the way you did to me. It makes our day.

I’m ending this differently, because it’s three years since I wrote this, and it was for a writing blog. I don’t regret the advice—unlike some I’ve given; when will I learn to keep my mouth shut?—but it applies to much more than writing. It applies to travel and apologizing and playing a game of Farkle with someone (particularly seven-year-old grandchildren who stomp all over you.) To saying “you bet” when someone asks you to go somewhere even if your hair’s dirty, whether it’s to East End for dessert or Aroma for coffee or a trip to Walmart for toilet paper and laundry detergent.

Don’t have time? Sure you do. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Let It Go

This is from March of 2015. It all still fits me to a T. Sigh. How about you?

The title of this post is the name of a perfectly lovely song that has been over-played, over-exposed, and over-everything else. It's also the phrase Duane used to me--several times--when I complained about changing times. I despise the time change. I don't care whether we're on Eastern, Central, or Southwest Lilliputian time, just leave it alone! My husband, on the other hand, doesn't mind the time change nearly as much as he minds the fact that I just won't let it go.

Which leads me to other things.

  • Bad reviews.
  • Weather.
  • The other side of the political aisle.
  • The church across town whose doctrine and signs drive you nuts.
  • Death and...
  • ...taxes.
Which in turn leads me to different other things.
  • The card you forgot to send.
  • The apology you've owed for years.
  • The bags in the laundry room that need to go to recycling, Goodwill, and the women's shelter.
  • Saying "I love you" and "you are so cool" and "I want to help" and "I'm so sorry this has happened to you" to those who need to hear it.
  • The laugh out loud and...
  • ...a hug.
The first list is, you got it, of things you should let go. So...just do. We'll wait over here in the corner while you go into the bathroom and scream really loud if that's what it takes.

The other list is, you got it, too!--of things you shouldn't let go. Of things it's never too late to do.

How about you? Do you have lists of your own? Go ahead and take care of them, then go out and have the best week ever--who cares what time it is?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Amazing Grace and Mondays

I wrote this on a Monday two years ago when I was deep in grief and looking for a way out. I'm glad to have found it for today because this has been a difficult week. Too much sadness and worry and heartache for one little set of days. So...yes, I'm glad I found it. I hope you have a great week.

This past week was springy. We've had warmth, rain, wind, and--here and there but not here--fog. The birds are everywhere, flashing flirtatious bright red wings and calling their spring congregants to order in raucous, cheerful voices. My cats, both of them reluctant outdoor residents, leave clumps of winter coat behind when they rub up against the bark of trees. Duane and I pick up hundreds of cottonwood twigs in the yard and grumble about it all the time we sniff greedily at the scent of spring and new beginnings.

I've walked the Nickel Plate a few times, building back up to where two miles won't leave me gasping and leaning forward with my hands on my knees. I didn't exercise all winter, and have yoyo-ed up 20-some pounds in the absence of motion. Does anyone else do this? It's nearly an annual thing for me, I'm not proud to admit.

Also this week, I got a little of my voice back. Silenced by the stress and grief of the illness and loss of my mother-in-law, I hadn't written a word beyond lists petitioning myself to buy eggs and milk in several weeks. This week I wrote a paragraph, then a few, then a couple of pages. I have, however, choked and stumbled over emotion. It's always one of my favorite parts of writing, but when I can't get past my own feelings to experience someone else's, I can't articulate it, either.

My grandsons are in the yard, picking up more sticks--cottonwoods are amazingly prolific with what they give up to the wind--and here is more emotion; there is little in life more fulfilling than being a grandparent. I've heard "Amazing Grace" a dozen times this week and accepted the comfort it offers, but it also opens up more feelings, releases more tears. Yesterday I wanted to call Mom and ask her when to put out the hummingbird feeders and realized I couldn't this year. That hurt.

In Anne of Avonlea, L. M. Montgomery says, “That is one good thing about this world...there are always sure to be more springs.” Along with those springs, even the false ones like this past week, comes depth of feeling that, like the reawakening of the earth, is revitalized each year. I have been this emotional in spring before, when kids and grandkids were born, when our sons married, when Duane and I married, at graduations. Each year, I am amazed.

I will forget by next year how this spring has been. I will be used to Mom being gone. I won't remember how the grandboys look in the yard with the tractor. I will have to be shown again, hear again, feel and see again, the "Amazing Grace" in each day.

Soon this spring, Monday glee I learned from my writer friend Holly Jacobs will be back and I won't quite remember how still and empty these past few Mondays have been, when even if the weather promised spring, winter resided dark and lonely in my heart. Eventually, when the ache lessens, I'll get more of my voice back. The grass will be greener, the sky more blue, the sticks picked up until the wind blows again. There will be kids on ball fields, tractors in fields, music on the air. We will remember that laughter is the blessed breath of life.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Keeping love alive...

This isn't old at all. It was first published in The Pink Heart Society in February of 2018. I suppose it's lazy, in a way, using it so soon, but I think the audiences are different--listen to me! Like I have a multitude of audiences!--and I also believe the subject is important to most of us. It doesn't have to be about marriage. It can be about friendship or family ties. The hard parts of those relationships have different titles, but they're hard parts nonetheless. Have a great week, and thanks for reading.

"A relationship is like a house. When a lightbulb burns out, you don't go and buy a new house. You fix the lightbulb."

from Pinterest with thanks

The truth is, if we really knew how to keep love alive, we’d all do it all the time. There’d be no discussion of divorce, no drama, no growing apart, no infidelity, no abuse, no looking across the table and thinking, Who is this man and what did he do with the guy I married?

Most of us don’t have to deal with all those things, but I’m fairly sure all of us have to deal with some. In nearly all long marriages, I’m certain there are years that don’t bear repeating (mine are 1982 and 2017.) There are things said that can never be unsaid. Bleak days and nights and weeks that seem to have no end. Long drives home from work when you intend to walk in the door and say it’s over. It’s done. You don’t want to play anymore. But then…

You have to work at it. Not just on the bad days, although especially then. You need to say you love each other every day even if you’re saying it through your teeth. You need to have each other’s backs, to laugh at the same things even if you don’t think they’re funny, to grieve when your partner does if for no other reason than you don’t want him or her to grieve alone.

It’s hard, it’s…yeah, it’s hard.

But then there are the moments.

At a wedding a couple of years ago, we were leaving the reception early. We were halfway to the door of the venue when the DJ started a slow song. Duane turned back and said, “You want to?” and we went back and danced for the first time in years. It was only a moment--or a few of them--but it made me happy all day. It makes me happy to remember it.

The thing with moments is that they attach and melt together, so that they bring ease and cohesion to the hard times and the bad days―even the truly awful ones. Times that originally brought tears and anger are ones you often learn to laugh at and to appreciate for the growth they provided—whether you wanted it or not.

It’s a mistake, though, to think love’s path will ever be without bumps, because human beings are flawed. We hurt each other, and we hurt no one more than the ones we love the most. It’s coming out on the other side, skipping from one moment to another, that allows us to claim endurance.

Every now and then, there are defining moments, signature ones that last forever. It’s up to us to recognize them, to hold them close and keep them safe for when we need them.

I am, at the very best of times, clumsy, so it was no surprise a few months ago when I tripped over a pair of shoes in the kitchen and went down like a tree, falling—for the first time ever—right on my face. I couldn’t seem to move, and I cried from the pain that radiated out from my broken nose. I’m not a weeper, so it was the tears that alarmed me most.

Duane, with his two artificial knees, got down on the floor with me, lying against my back and holding me. Keeping me warm and safe. When the shock wore off enough that I could move and the splinters of pain finally dimmed enough that I stopped crying, he got to his feet and helped me to mine. 

It was probably five minutes in all, from the fall to when we got up, but they defined the going-on-47 years we’ve been together. They personified love kept alive. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Wisdom born of pain

I wrote this quite a while back, although I'm not positive what year it was. Because I make a concentrated effort--and believe me when I say it's an effort--to keep this column from being overtly political, I haven't changed it; its statistics are out of date and incomplete. I remain grateful to the women who rose up to get us as far as we've come and proud of the ones who are still standing (and marching) to keep us from ever going backwards. 

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. 
Susan B. Anthony

It's Women's History Month. I've never been particularly fond of March, but reading up on this has made me more so.

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the US with a medical degree. In 1853, Antoinette Blackwell became the first American woman to be ordained a minister in a recognized denomination (Congregational). In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. Lucy Hobbs, in 1866, became the first woman dentist. In 1869, Arabella Mansfield, became the first woman to be admitted to the practice of law, practicing not in cosmopolitan and forward-looking New York, but in Iowa.

In 1887, Susanna Medora Salter became the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. The 'firsts' are endless. Edith Wharton won a Pulitzer, Amelia Earhart flew alone across the Atlantic. Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman elected to the Senate. Diane Crump was the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Elizabeth Seton was the first native-born North American to be canonized.

Sandra Day O'Connor and Sally Ride both went boldly where women had not gone before. Mae Jamison became the first black woman astronaut and Janet Reno the first woman attorney general. Madeline Albright was the first woman secretary of state, to be followed shortly by Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman in that position.

In 1920, twenty-seven years behind New Zealand and 85 years ahead of Kuwait, American women got the vote.

Betty Ford had breast cancer, a face lift, and an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. And went public with it all.

Rosalyn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hilary Clinton, and Nancy Reagan "stood by their men" even when standing there undoubtedly put their teeth on edge.

Time magazine said Eleanor Roosevelt "gave a voice to people who did not have access to power. She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to write a syndicated column, to earn money as a lecturer, to be a radio commentator and to hold regular press conferences." I remember it being said that she would "rather light a candle than curse the darkness." I can think of no higher aspiration. She's still a hero.

I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronté. These were women who wrote books when women weren't supposed to.

And then there are women closer to home. My grandmother, heavy with pregnancy, carried a treadle sewing machine down the stairs and outside when her house was on fire. My mother-in-law, growing up in rural Kentucky, delivered mail on horseback. My mother, and my friends' mothers, were the foundations on which our lives were built.

I don't know if any of these women set out to make history; I doubt it. I imagine they were just women who wanted to do the best job they could. And they did. But they did so much more.

In the 2004 presidential election 65 percent of eligible women voted, as opposed to 62 percent of men. In September 2004, there were 212,000 women in the armed forces and more than 35,000 of them were officers? There are more than 1.7 million women who are veterans.

My daughter and daughters-in-law all go to women doctors. I went to a religious retreat where all the attending clergy were women (I believe by accident and not design) and where I learned the immortal words, "Clergy chicks rock!" and they did. They did.

When I vote, the gender of who I'm voting for is way down there on my list of considerations, right along with "do they have a nice smile?" I believe, thanks to these women in history, that it's way down there on my husband's list, too. (That being said, I must admit that I remain disappointed and angry that neither of the last two supreme court justices named was a woman and do not expect to get over it soon.)

Reading Little Women until the covers literally fell off made me know all the way to my soul that someday I was going to write, too.

All of this then is the legacy of Women in History. Because of them, we can vote and work outside the home or choose not to; we know that strength and power take many forms. Breast cancer and heart disease in women have become Matters of Importance in medical research and development.

"I am woman, hear me roar," sang Helen Reddy.

Thank you, Women in History, for giving us the voice to roar.

Friday, February 23, 2018

...the sounds of the earth are like music...

I wrote the bones of this three years ago. I've edited it some--I hope enough; sometimes my own writing is awful--but I still like those bones. Have a great week!

Oh the sounds of the earth are like music
The breeze is so busy, it don't miss a tree
An' a ol' weepin' willer is laughin' at me - 
Richard Rodgers

I’m not a movie person, but the quote above is from Oklahoma. I used it because I love what he was able to do with a few words that give voice to how I feel. But, about movies--I have trouble sitting in one place for two hours and the truth is, I don't like very many new movies--although there are some exceptions to that. I don't like violence, I don't think sex is a spectator sport, and I still flinch at four-letter words, especially when there are a dozen of them in a sentence. I’m not crazy about animation and I hate stupid, so it really cuts down on things to watch.

I am a theatre person. If it’s on stage, I’m probably going to like it. Worse than that for anyone around me, if it’s a musical, I’m going to sing with it.
I can't quote many things from movies and plays I have seen, beyond the obvious. "My dear, I don't give a damn" and "I see dead people" come to mind. But I can remember scenes and how they made me feel. Especially that—how they made me feel.
Sally Field in Norma Rae
I remember when Old Yeller died. When Sally Field stood on a conveyer belt and held up a sign saying UNION in Norma Rae. When Chamberlain and his Mainers charged Little Round Top for the third time with nothing more than bayonets and heart in Gettysburg. When Rick Nelson and Dean Martin sang in Rio Bravo. When black soldiers got boots in Glory. When Jimmy Stewart filibustered in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. (Is anyone with me on thinking that should be required viewing for all members of Congress and they can’t swear in until they get it?) The eight times I saw A Hard Day’s Night in the theater. Seeing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” being sung on Broadway. There are so many I can’t begin to think of them all.
          In 1994, I made my daughter’s wedding dress. Also the matron of honor’s, three bridesmaids’, and two flower girls’ dresses. (I bought the Mother of the Bride one--I was tired.) From March until August, I didn’t venture too far from the sewing machine. Over and over, while I sewed, I watched Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, the ones with Megan Follows and the late Jonathan Crombie playing Anne and Gilbert.
          I loved how they made me feel while I sewed. They got me over the crying-over-beading and the many times I said, “I can’t do this,” and all the days I was much too tired to thread the needle one more time.
          Duane and I went to see The Dixie Swim Club at the Ole Olsen Memorial Theater. While I admit to some bias, I think Peru, Indiana’s local theater group is full of outstanding talent, and it’s never been showcased any better than it is in this play. I laughed so hard I nearly cried, and then there was a brilliant, aching point where I was crying. Several years later I talked to Laura Stroud, one of the stars of the play, and when I tried to talk to her about that one line she had delivered with so much perfection it sliced my heart right in two, I got sniffly again and, oh, it felt so good.
          It’s always nice when readers say something that makes you goofy-smile and happy-dance all day. Or when they let you know you got them through something that would have been harder otherwise. It means that even though they may forget your name, the title of the book, or even its protagonists, they’ll still remember how you made them feel. It doesn’t get any better than that.
          It’s been a rough week for virtually everyone. Finding this column and changing it made me think of lines from Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You”:

“Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?”
I remember doing that during that awful September, when the news became unbearable. Not I Love Lucy per se, but other reruns. Shows that didn’t hurt. Shows made us feel better, as if we could get through the day.

My niece, Sara Nider Biggs, is a teacher with two children. This week, she said on Facebook, “Every day, be sure to tell somebody Thank You.” Sara was starting with her children’s teachers, who keep them safe every day.
I join her in that, thanking everyone who does all they can to keep children safe. I also thank all those people who did and do write, direct, and act in movies and plays, and who sing songs and write books that I can’t quote lines from. Because no matter how hard or sad or impossible times are, you make us feel. You make us feel wonderful.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Of shamers and bullies and snots

These are getting too new! This one is only two years old and was first published on Word Wranglers. My point of view has changed some since then, because I think meanness has become the norm and that too many people think it's okay. It will be interesting to hear how others feel about it. I hope you had a good Valentine's Day and, as always, thanks for reading.

...when dreams were all they gave for free... - Janis Ian

I read on Facebook that actress Kristen Bell said her mother told her, "If you do decide to go on a prescription to help yourself [with depression], understand that the world wants to shame you for that..."

People are "shamed" for being obese, for being Christians, for not being Christians, for being liberal, conservative, vegan or carnivore. Young girls are shamed for not having the ubiquitous thigh gap and boys for...I don't know, not wearing their jeans low enough. Rural people are shamed because--obviously--you can't be smart if you don't live inside city limits. Urban people are shamed because...well, because they're urban, I guess.

It's obvious that One, I spend too much time on Facebook, and Two, shaming has become the new epidemic. And I'm feeling bereft.


I'm a Christian, I'm fairly liberal, I once took medication for two years because of clinical depression, any thigh gap I might have boasted closed (I think for good) more years ago than I can remember, and I'm probably doomed to being overweight because I love to eat far too much.

But no, that's not why I'm bereft. It's because I've never been shamed. I pray when and where I want, I vote my conscience, and I wouldn't hesitate to medicate again if I felt hopelessness circling my life's perimeter. I think people who love me wish I'd lose weight (and keep it off) to keep me healthy, not because they're ashamed of me.

I will admit, I remember being made fun of because I was poor and dressed accordingly, because I was a geek, because I was shockingly uncoordinated, but I don't remember "shaming" even being a word when I was growing up. I was very familiar with "Shame on you!" accompanied by a shaking finger and a frown of motheresque proportions, but that was mothering, right? Not shaming. 

And people who made fun of me were being rotten little kids, weren't they? Rotten like I was being when someone had a lot of trouble reading aloud and I snickered. Or when someone I didn't like tore her dress on the slide and I snickered. Or when someone else I didn't like started her period during 7th grade English class and I snickered.

But I wasn't shaming. I was being a snot. While I'm not saying it's okay to be a snot, I do think it's part of the human experience and that the recipient of said snottiness and shaming is often better and stronger because of it. And maybe they learn a little about forgiving, about taking the high road, about how not to treat a person who's different than their particular definition of cool. And the snots grow up and cringe at what they said or did to someone else. It's not necessary to brand them for life, is it?

But there's another part, too, that I have to admit to. Not all snots do grow up; some of them stay that way forever. And they will pick on people because that's what they do. We need to recognize that, roll our eyes, say "consider the source," and go on better and stronger. What we don't need is to ever say the world's going to shame you, to indicate that the world is full of bullies and...er...snots, because in truth it's full of pretty nice people with some crummy ones on the periphery. Keep them there. Do what's right for you and don't hurt anyone else in the process. That's not really hard, is it?

Okay. Off my soapbox. Have a great week!