Tuesday, December 26, 2017

...a journey that must be traveled...

Debby Myers is back with us on the Window today, continuing her story where she left off last week. She'll mention in today's post that she doesn't feel "strong and brave." I think I understand that, but to me, she still is. I'm so glad she's back this week to include us in her journey.

Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.- Oliver Goldsmith

The woman I was before February 22, 2016 no longer exists. She worked 50 hours a week on her feet, supporting her household. She was a social butterfly, always on the move. She was trim and fit. She traveled. She played at the park or jumped on the trampoline with her grandchildren. She cooked, cleaned, and shopped. That woman is gone. That was me & now I’m trying to figure out how to be me again. To be continued…this is where I left off.

So today is Christmas Day. It’s been 22 months since I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It’s literally taken all these months to get my plan of treatment set to move forward – to slow the progression & manage my symptoms. I started infusions of Ocrevus in September, which I’ll receive every six months for…. I guess, forever. I’m taking a drug for spasticity, a drug for nerve pain, a drug for cog-fog, a drug for bowel movements, a drug for inflammation and a drug for digestion and finally a probiotic, magnesium, Vitamin D and my thyroid medicine I’ve been on for 26 years. All that and, still, my most recent MRI showed a new lesion on my spine in my neck between the third and fourth vertebrae.

There’s walking, or should I say falling, which I’m doing more and more often. My right leg being numb, tingly, and buzzing constantly does little for my walking. I just drag it along with it feeling like it weighs 100 pounds. Speaking of pounds, I’ve put on 40 since my leg stopped working. Before that I spent 8-10 hours a day, five days a week, running around a grocery store. Now I can’t run around at all – or walk. Of course, the steroids I’ve taken four times in the last couple of years haven’t helped. I ride a stationary bike every day, but physical therapy has been temporarily ruled out. Not because of my leg, but because of another symptom I’ll live with forever. The MS hug is its nickname. What it really is is severe inflammation of the tiny muscles that hold together the rib cage. This inflammation causes a feeling of tightness, like a girdle, from just below my breasts to my belly button.

The lesion on my spine was the striking force that led to discovering my MS. It’s located right where the nerves split off mid thoracic. In that very spot, I have a pain that feels like a knife in my back. Not that I know how a knife in my back feels, but that’s my best description. Just below that area is my stomach and colon – a part of which became numb because of the attack on my spine. This makes it a challenge to digest and then release food. That one lesion led to my first MRI, which disclosed 15 more lesions on my brain. Although none were active, they were at some point. Therein lies the cause of my cognitive fog, my lack of focus, my reaction to bright lights and sounds, the blurring off and on in my right eye and the occasional screeching sound in my right ear.

Finally, what may be my worst symptom is the fatigue. I have never felt anything like it. Even when I worked in the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving and would come home so exhausted. The hardest thing to accept about it is that I don’t have to have done anything at all and still it comes. Every day, sometimes several times a day, the fatigue is overwhelming. I’ve learned in the last 22 months that when it arrives, no matter where I am, I must stop whatever I’m doing and rest.

So, the woman I used to be was just gone in a flash. And now people call me a survivor, strong and brave. If only I could see me in that way. Most of this time I just feel weak, alone in my feelings. We with MS are snowflakes – no two alike. For the most part, those who don’t have MS aren’t schooled in it. As much as I love my family and friends, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t really get it either.

Yet it could be worse. I could already be in a wheelchair. I could already be dependent on all of them to take care of me. I know all of that….but I still miss the woman I was. And I’m still trying to figure out the woman I am now.

Despite the constant pain and weirdness I live with daily, I have many things to make me happy. I’m spending a lot of time with my four grandchildren – time I never had before when I was working. I’m continuing to enjoy community theater. Even though I can’t really act anymore, as long as I’m able, I want to continue to direct and serve on the Board of Directors. I’m currently the publicity chairman and am enjoying designing programs, newsletters, and flyers. I’m also working on solicitation, finding new advertisers and audience members for our shows. I’m doing a lot more reading and writing.

I spend a lot more time, alone, giving me the opportunity to figure out who I am now. It’s a different me--I didn’t ask for it, but I got it. Telling my story helps. I hope it does the same for you.
Debby Myers lives in Peru, Indiana with her husband, Alan. She has three grown children. She has four grandchildren. Debby has been involved with Ole Olsen Memorial Theater for 22 years now. This season she will direct her 15th show. Since her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2016, she has embarked on doing some writing. I 
Besides being here last week, a year and a half ago, Debby visited Word Wranglers. Click on the link and read what she shared with us that day.

Friday, December 22, 2017

I believe...

I don't know when I wrote this. The grandkids mentioned near the end are 20 and 21 now, so it's been a while, but I was happy to find it. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you believe. Merry Christmas to all of you, and thanks for continuing to read the Window Over the Sink.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. - Fred, in Miracle on 34th Street

I'm a Christian, so believing in and embracing the “reason for the season” was never an issue. I have three older brothers, so believing in Santa Claus was an issue. In short, I never did. In our house, by the time I came along, Santa was a mythological folk hero portrayed, as Susan said in Miracle on 34th Street, by a “nice man with a white beard.” I liked him, I wanted him to be real, but I knew better. Some part of me wondered if the reason a lot of classmates got better presents than I did was that they believed in St. Nick and I didn’t.
         Twenty or so years later, my husband and I worked hard to keep our kids’ belief in Santa alive and well. Duane even gestured over the fallow fields we drove past and assured the back seat brigade that the rows only looked empty—they were actually filled with bumper crops of air oats. This peculiar grain, which grows only where there are children to imagine it, is what reindeer eat that allows them to fly.
         One Christmas Eve, we drove home from my family’s celebration through a Christmas card display of falling snow—great fat flakes falling straight down. Although it was only late afternoon, it was dark. The car was full of gifts and goodies and excited children.
         Duane saw the movement from the side in time to pump the brakes gently and slow to a crawl. Allowing the cluster of antlered deer to cross in front of us to the field on the other side of the road.
         The kids fell silent. Watching.
         “They’ll be working tonight,” said Duane.
         “Uh-huh.” As usual, I had a brilliant rejoinder to add to the conversation.
         “Filling up on air oats before they go out,” one of the kids offered.
         I know the deer were whitetail, not reindeer. I know the only thing the field produced that night was a few inches of snow. I know that Duane and I did the Santa job later on that night, laughing and wrapping and eating his cookies and drinking his milk. I know all that, really.
         A year or two ago, I was driving somewhere with grandsons in the car. I don’t remember which ones or how old they were, only that there was more than one and it was wintertime. One of the boys lifted a hand, gesturing toward the field we passed. “Look,” he said. “Air oats.”
         I don’t care what I know—I believe.

Friday, December 15, 2017

We can go down now.

The silence is eerie in its completeness. I don’t know where the panic-induced adrenalin has gone, because it was noisy in and of itself, but it’s curiously absent. I’m calm and unafraid. Well, not calm—we’re 600 feet in the air, for God’s sake, dangling precariously from a harness without a seat. There’s air buffeting us around a bit. It feels…nice. Scary. No, just nice. I never think of exhilaration as being silent but it is right now—silent and joyous. Is this what dying is like? I wonder.

“Okay,” says Lynn, my sister-in-law and partner in crime—for whom height is an issue, “that’s enough. We can go down now.”

I wrote that five years ago. I was 62, Lynn was 59, she has a heights issue, and I’m terrified of water. These all seemed like viable reasons to go parasailing. So we did.

I was fairly new to being retired and terrified of what I was about to become. Retired people didn’t work anymore, did they? They watched television, complained about their health, and drove too slow in the left lane, right? They used the term “fixed income” as though it was confined to them. They got percentages off at stores and restaurants, but never got their wallets out until the cashier told them how much they owed. They went through the 15-items-or-less checkout with a full cart because, as one man told me while I stood behind his week’s worth of groceries with my bread and milk, “You can wait. I’ve worked all my life. I’ve earned this.”

That day in the store, while the guy took his time (and mine) because he'd "worked all his life," not the one when Lynn and I were strapped into harnesses and lifted high in the air, was the life-changer. It was the one that made me decide what kind of old person I intended to be.

I would be the one who counted her items before she used the express line, the one who drove at least the speed limit and stayed in the right lane unless I was passing someone. I would only watch TV if there was absolutely nothing better to do and my answer to “how are you feeling?” was always going to be short and positive. I’d take my senior discounts, but I’d have my wallet out and waiting when I heard the total owed. I was going to keep working, keep writing until they withdrew my keyboard from my cold, dead hands.

It’s not always as easy to do as it is to type the words here—even I will admit that—but it’s not always that hard, either. I can’t write as fast as I used to, but slow is nowhere near the same thing as stopped. I’m not sure how I’d do with eight hours a day on my feet anymore, but I log some volunteer hours and have a really good time doing it. I don’t have any trouble keeping up with traffic, staying on the right side of the road, or knowing which checkout lanes I should use.

Even though parasailing is the rashest thing I’ve done in this new invention of myself, the rude old man’s remark was the life-changer for me. I’m really glad for both experiences.

I still want to go zip-lining. Or maybe make a tandem jump from an airplane. I want to go back to Europe. I’ve learned there are two great words that go along with being retired.

What’s next?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Change in Plans

I'm pleased to welcome my friend Debby Myers to the Window today. She has stories to share and a storyteller's voice to do it with. 
I try not to give too much writer advice--I'm not an expert by any means--but I know the place to start a story is where something changes. Debby's story today starts with a huge change. Please make her welcome. 

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. - John Lennon

Where did I go? Why am I feeling forced into being someone I’m not? Why do I feel like I’m gone? Only I seem to know that I’m never coming back.

February 22, 2016. One day I will not soon forget. A couple of days earlier, I’d been at work at my job as a co-manager for Kroger. Towards the end of my shift, my right leg kept giving out on me. It felt like it was buzzing, numb, prickly. I thought maybe I was just tired. When I got home, I went to bed.

When my alarm went off at seven a.m., I stepped out of bed and fell. I couldn’t feel my right leg at all. I sat on the edge of the bed and began rubbing my leg. That seemed to help bring the feeling back. I showered and got ready for work, all the while feeling the strange sensations in my leg. I started to feel a sharp pain in my back too. That’s when I decided to make a quick trip to the Redi-Med. I called my husband, who was very concerned. I called my boss to let him know I’d be late, but would be in after my visit to the Redi-Med.

That decision led me to the ER for a cat scan, blood work, and X-rays. The ER doctor said the tests hadn’t revealed anything, but because of the numbness, he was afraid it might be neurological. Neurological--what did that mean? Then he said they would be taking me by ambulance to have an MRI and see a neurologist.

Now, I’d never had an MRI before but just the thought of it terrified me. And an ambulance? Was this an emergency? What was happening to me? This was the beginning of my losing myself. I called my husband. He was on his way. He seemed terrified too. I called my boss. He seemed terrified too. Was I dying?

Once there, I was taken to a room in the neurological wing. For 24 hours after arriving, I sat and waited for someone to tell me what was wrong. I cried, I yelled at nurses, more symptoms arrived. Not only was my right leg numb, I still had the stabbing pain in my back and now I had this squeezing pain in my ribcage and I felt like my head was going to explode.

Finally, they took me for the MRI. Several hours later, a doctor came in. He said I had a mass on my spine, possibly a tumor. By this time, my daughters were there. Now they also looked terrified. A tumor? Were they going to remove it?
The doctor didn’t have any answers yet. He was not a neurologist. He said that they were going to do a spinal tap. What? They were going to stick a huge needle in my spine? Why were they testing my spinal fluid? Did they think this tumor on my spine was cancer? I’d been afraid in my life before, but nothing like this. 

I waited.

A neurologist came into my hospital room where I’d spent two of the most trying days I'd ever known. He explained that I didn’t have a tumor after all. He told me that the mass on my spine was a large sack of inflammation. The inflammation had been the result of my nervous system attacking itself. He said the myelin on my nerve endings had been eaten away, causing my nerves to send mixed signals to the rest of my body. This caused the numbness, buzzing, and prickly feelings as well as the stabbing pain in my back at the sight of the inflammation. It also led to the squeezing in my rib cage.

My first questions seem very stupid to me now. So, do I need to take some medicine? How long until I’m better?

The doctor replied, “You aren’t really going to get better. You have Multiple Sclerosis. There is no cure, but we will manage your condition.”

Multiple Sclerosis? Manage my condition? Wait a minute…I have to get better, right? He said I had had the condition for decades, that I had 15 brain lesions and two on my spine. He said I was lucky that I’d gone this long without an attack. He would send me home with steroids to reduce the inflammation and would see me again in two weeks. At that time, they would start me on an MS drug to help prevent future attacks.

He would initially take me off work for 90 days to see if any of my symptoms subsided enough for me to return. He also told me I should apply for disability. Oh no. I could surely go back to work, right?

The first MS drug I was given caused side effects. More symptoms. I had to go through four months of detox, which made me weak and nauseous.

My short-term disability was exhausted and I was terminated. My disability was denied. The doctor said he couldn’t give a definitive answer as to my ability to work yet and I had to file an appeal.

Shortly after that, my husband said he thought we should get a second opinion. He felt this doctor wasn’t invested in helping me like he should be. So, I got a new neurologist. She made me feel comfortable, because she didn’t pull any punches. But she gave me more bad news. My MS is primary progressive–meaning my symptoms are with me to stay and I won’t have remission, only progression.

So, let’s go back to the first paragraph. Where did I go? Why do I feel like I am gone? Because, in truth, I am gone. The woman I was before February 22 no longer exists. She worked 50 hours a week on her feet, supporting her household. She was a social butterfly, always on the move. She was trim and fit. She traveled. She played at the park or jumped on the trampoline with her grandchildren. She cooked, cleaned, and shopped. That woman is gone. That was me & now I’m trying to figure out how to be me again. To be continued…
Debby Myers lives in Peru, Indiana with her husband, Alan. She has three grown children. She has four grandchildren who are the apples of her eye - Makenna,Taylor, Izaac & Jameson. Debby is a graduate of Maconaquah High School and International Business College, where she studied business management. Most recently she was employed as a co-manager for Kroger for 15 years. In the past she co-owned & operated a local day care for seven years, worked in development at the Honeywell Center for five years and "played" as a radio personality for Peru's former radio station 98.5 FM for nearly 10 years. Debby has been involved with Ole Olsen Memorial Theater for 22 years now. She has performed, worked backstage, costumed & served on the Board of Directors, where she now serves as Publicity Chairman. But her true love is directing. This season she will direct her 15th show. Debby is also a member of the Ole Olsen Hall of Fame. Since her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2016, she has embarked on doing some writing. In her spare time she likes to read, listen to country music, and travel. Having been to 40 of the 50 states, her next destination will be the Eastern part of the US, particularly New York City to see a show on Broadway.  
A year and a half ago, Debby visited Word Wranglers. Click on the link and read what she shared with us that day.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Go Fly A Kite...

 This is from July of 2016. It's a subject I've written about more than once because I think it's so important. It also seems to be as much a part of the holidays as ribbons and tissue paper. I've doctored it some and hope you'll have patience with seeing it again.

I've danced with depression. It's a demanding, crushing partner that doesn't so much lead as step all over your feet and then lay the blame on you. I was one of the lucky ones. It wasn't that bad. It didn't last that long. Zoloft cut in and two-stepped me off to a lighted area where I was with music and friends and people who loved me before the depression could sit me down over there by the dark wall with no one to talk to and not a song to be had.


It is on days like today that I worry. When I wake with a sore hip and a strong inclination to stay in bed. When I eat for comfort instead of because I’m hungry. When I am irritated by things that I shouldn’t even notice. When the clouds in the sky—yes, there are usually clouds and/or darkness when I feel this way—bring me close to tears. Words are coming just fine on my work-in-progress, but…you know, are they really okay words? On days like today, I wonder if my cranky dance partner is coming around again.

No, it’s not.

Because by this afternoon, I am better. I have laughed and talked and sung (although it is true other people wish I wouldn’t.) I’ve eaten, but not too much. Medicated my hip and hoped it is nothing. Stayed awake.

I’m only writing this because depression is a villain to be watched. It’s all well and good to kick it to the curb, but the slimy rat bastard might crawl back and attack when you least expect it. I have no medical or psychological expertise, but this is what I do. 

Take a walk.
Go to lunch with a friend.
Laugh at something. Anything.
Find light. And color. Latch on.
Talk to someone you trust. Just being listened to helps.
Find a song that makes you happy. (Mine today is “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”) 

It’s not that easy, of course. You shouldn’t diagnose yourself. Read up on symptoms to look for. If you need to see a doctor, see one—mine was a godsend.

I know I haven’t said anything new here, but there has been so much
discussion of safe places (much of it pejorative in nature) that I want to stress that it's a good idea to have one, where you can vent or spill or rant or rail all you need to. Today I needed to. What about you? Have you danced with the partner no one wants? If you have—or are right now—find that safe place or person; it’s not an opponent to be fought alone.

My new book, The Happpiness Pact, has a heroine with who suffers from clinical depression and anxiety issues. It's not the first time I've "used" depression as a plot point (see below), and I hesitated before doing it, but as any writer will tell you, our characters often don't do what we suggest. In the end, I was glad for the story that presented itself and I hope, for a couple of hours anyway, Libby's story becomes someone's safe place. 

In One More Summer, the book of my heart, Dillon Campbell suffers a raging
case of clinical depression. His best friend Steven travels to Paris to bring him home. I don't write guys all that well, I don't think, but I loved what Dillon said about Steven's arrival: “That’s something to come back to life to, a tall guy in a ponytail yelling, ‘Get off your ass, Campbell. I don’t have time for this.’”

I don't have time for it, either, and neither do you. There is too much joy to be found and life to be lived. Sounds glib and easy, doesn't it? It's not. I know it's not. But it's worthwhile to find the help that's available and take advantage of it. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Now showing at Ole Olsen...

 It has been my privilege to take part in the production of this play. I'd never seen the process of "putting on a show" before and asked Kurt Schindler if I could watch if I stayed out of the way. I will be forever grateful that he said Yes and never let me stay out of the way even when I really should have. I can't say enough--and haven't; you'll see that when you read this post--about the actors who brought Dickens' characters to life. I hope you come and see the show.
Photograph courtesy of Sarah L. Luginbill

There’s little indication outside the Depot, home of Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre in Peru, Indiana, that there are big doings going on inside. The building is its beautiful, tranquil self, dressed up by the gazebo and the River Walk and the personalized memorial bricks in its paths. 
But inside, the stage is full. Of props, platforms, actors, and the occasional director. And there in the back, where you can sort of see it but sort of not—it’s full back there, too. The walls are black and so are the clothes worn by the cast of director
Kurt Schindler’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The furniture’s eclectic. Noisy. A pink chair should look out of place but doesn’t. So should a red tutu and a dented barrel and a blow-up chicken that needs to pass for a goose. But they don’t.
Scarves are stuffed into Christmas gift bags. Vests hang haphazard and crooked from wall hooks. There are baskets here and there. Shelves that hold…stuff. At least, that’s what it looks like, but when the show begins, you see that things like a curtain, a boot, and a purple brooch have their places.
Photograph courtesy of Laura Stroud
          Schindler’s treatment of the classic story is different. There are more laughs. Some startling moments—the Ghost of Christmas Present has a lovely Irish accent, some roles are non-traditional, and Turkey Boy is…well, you really need to see the show. I’m not going to spoil that particular surprise.
But there are also scenes that, just as they’ve done in every version of the story you’ve ever seen, will break your heart. Most of the cast are Ole Olsen veterans, and their experience and dedication to their art show in their performances.
Photograph courtesy of Laura Stroud
There are new ones, too. Well, not new now. Not after the hours they've spent learning lines and expressions and nuances that have given them other identities. By now, they're seasoned.
“I wrote it hard,” said Schindler. “Maybe too hard. But I love this show. I love this cast.”
Like any other community theater, production has had its difficulties. Illness created the necessity for a last-minute replacement. People have day jobs. School. Sometimes both. There are a lot of lines to learn. Watching from her place at the table in front of the stage, the assistant director watched the process and wondered how they’d get it done. Actually she wondered if they’d get it done.
Media night was Monday, November 27. The performance probably wasn’t seamless—most worthwhile things aren’t—but it was awesome, not a word to be used lightly, nevertheless.
 Laura Stroud, props mistress, said, “We have a show.” She looked satisfied, maybe relieved. But not surprised.
Of course, they have a show. Of course, they “got it done.”
The assistant director shouldn’t have wondered. Shouldn’t have worried about old Joe or Mrs. Cratchit or Scrooge or how that many people were going to dance on the Ole Olsen stage at one time. “They’re troupers,” said Schindler. “They’re all troupers.”

Tickets are still available for the shows. Call 765/472-3680 for reservations. Friday & Saturday Nights: 12/1 & 12/2; 12/8 & 12/9 @ 7:30 p.m. Sunday Matinees: 12/3 & 12/10 @ 2:00 p.m.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Heroes and heartache

I don't remember when this was. It was in the early days of the Window, after Tony Hare had taken my picture for the paper. What a nice guy he was. So, anyway, sometime in the early 90s, I think. The times have done some changing since then, but...you know, not everything. I've updated this some, subtracted a few things that were too dated to make sense and added a few. 

I had to add something here, too, a category of heroes that is new on my Top Ten list. There are a lot of heroes who clean up the devastation left by disasters--both natural and human-made. I can't imagine walking into one of those places where children were harmed by wanton violence. I can't imagine being a nurse or a doctor trying to save those young lives and not being able to. My thanks to them for doing what they do, and my everlasting admiration.

There are words that just go together, you know. Bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, his and hers. I've noticed as I've aged that heroes and heartache are that way, too.

“That's why you can't give up. Heroes don't give up.” ― Kiera Cass

I miss heroes. I had them as a kid. They were just the regular ones (remember, this was the 1950s--regular was different then. - Liz, 2017) They were, to my unjaded eyes, a cut above. They had an intelligence and a manner of using it that was beyond my admittedly limited understanding. Some of them grew up poor, as I had, and made me think that I could accomplish things like they did. I wanted to be famous like the, rich like them, and admired like them.

I wanted to shake the dust of Indiana cornfields from my shoes and go on to higher, better, less confining places. I sneered at the names of where we are: the Corn Belt, the Bible Belt, the Crossroads of America. Get real. The only thing that happens at crossroads is that people turn or they keep on going, because either way, there's nothing there.

I saw myself living in a city, writing books, and wearing dress-for-success suits for lunches with my publisher. As I strode up the city sidewalks with a free, long-legged gait, people would turn as they recognized me and I would smile at them, a smile that promised that they, too, could be like my heroes and, subsequently, like me.

Well, I grew up some. And I did what we Bible Belters do. I have a family, a house in the country, and a job I like most of the time. The cornfield dust is firmly attached to both my shoes and my heart. My legs remained short and I don't have any suits--although there is this one pair of black pants I wear to funerals and other events where yoga pants don't look quite right.

As I grew up, however, my heroes didn't. They developed feet of clay. The presidents I admired were less than admirable. The astronauts were just ordinary people with extraordinary jobs. The musicians whose music I loved seemed always to be surrounded by controversy and drugs and things clandestine that lowered them from the pedestals of heroism.

Yeah, you bet I miss them. That particular Top Ten list was something I wanted to pass on my kids, but something happened along the way. I think the kids all found their own heroes, and that's a good thing, because there weren't all that many left on my list to pass down.

But, you know, I have a new list.

One Christmastime,  a woman came into the post office where I was working to mail two large parcels to her family in the South. They wouldn't have a Christmas if she didn't, she explained. But she only had enough money to send one of the parcels the slowest, cheapest way. Planning to go borrow money and come back, she left, leaving both parcels in my custody. The man who had stood behind her in line very quietly paid to mail both parcels at the fast Priority Mail rate. He wouldn't leave his name.

There are teachers known by all of us who, when they see their kids in need, dip into their own pockets to provide. There are Little League parents who pay entry fees for children whose parents can't, who give rides to players without them, and who buy a whole bunch of stuff they neither need nor want because it helps the league. There are coaches who cover expenses not in their contracts, store clerks who keep change in their pockets for customers who don't have quite enough, and people who volunteer and volunteer and volunteer some more.

There is a man with whom I graduated from high school who pulled people from a burning car. People who take care of animals in need. People and agencies who work behind the scenes to fulfill the needs of those who fall between society's ever widening cracks.

There are people who attend meetings of boards and councils whose purposes affect us all and stand firm and tall for what they believe to be right and the best thing for everyone--not just a chosen few.

None of these people will ever be presidents, astronauts, or famous musicians. They might never live in the city and their shoes are probably dusty in the summer. Because they have chosen to stay at the crossroads and light the way for others who have chosen to turn or go on. They are the ones who make the path a little smoother and the world a little kinder.

But are they heroes? Oh, yes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Turkey, joy, and a small glass of beer

Quite honestly, I'm not sure when I wrote this, so if you've read it too recently to like reading it again, my apologies. The greatest gifts...the greatest reasons for thanksgiving...are the people in our lives, and I'm so grateful for Aunt Nellie. She gave more richness to my life than I can ever explain.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ― Marcel Proust

Aunt Nellie was my great-aunt. She was born in 1892, loved and married two men, and never had any children. She was the other side of the coin from my grandmother, who’d undoubtedly been the Good Daughter, and even though I loved them both, I worshiped the ground Aunt Nellie walked on.

My mother’s side of the family were all teetotalers, but when my brother-in-law asked Aunt Nellie if she’d like a beer, she said, Yes, she wouldn’t mind a small glass. I don’t know that she ever drank beer again, but she did indeed enjoy every drop of that “small glass.” Where Aunt Nellie was, there was always laughter.

                We used to go to her house for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure how many of us were there. It seemed like dozens at the time, but the number was probably closer to 25. She lived in a pretty little Cape Cod house on a pretty little street in Goshen, Indiana, and she had...oh, even in memory, it thrills me...she had a step stool you could sit on and the steps pushed out in front! She also had a finished basement with its own kitchen! In the living room part of the basement, there was a cabinet Victrola with a stack of records. They were tinny and scratchy and it was hard to get them going the right speed with the crank, but there was such safety lying on the rug listening to Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.

                Even though I grew up on a small farm, the only time we ever had turkey was on Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in it every year. I loved eating whatever I wanted and never having to touch the red stuff that slid out of the Ocean Spray can. The dessert table was impressive, to say the least, and it was pretty much stripped by the end of the day. Even then, leftovers went home with each family, and the feeling of fullness and warmth would go on with turkey and noodles the next day.    

                I imagine being poor was a key player in my satisfaction with Thanksgiving, but that’s really neither here nor there. What matters are the memories and the lessons Aunt Nellie left behind. She was somewhere in her 80s when she died. She’d been packing for a trip to Grand Rapids with friends when she passed away. Grief created a hard, empty place in my chest at the loss, and I just knew I’d never get over it. However, at the funeral the officiating pastor mentioned her preparing for her trip and said she’d been just as ready to go to heaven as she’d been to go to Grand Rapids. My grandmother, who’d loved her younger sister even more than we did, said she thought if she’d had her choice, Aunt Nellie would rather have gone to Grand Rapids. Laughter softened the grief and added one more rung to the memory ladder.

                Aunt Nellie was one of the first people I thought of when I became a Harlequin Heartwarming author. She’d have loved the line’s premise, its joy and sense of family and its humor. She'd have also told everyone at the beauty shop all about her niece, the author. Knowing that reminds me again of how lucky I was to have her.

                Happy Thanksgiving to all. If you have that small glass of beer, be sure to enjoy every drop.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

...friends are friends forever...

Zak II
Bradley A. McClain, a local funeral director, posted this on Facebook. After I got done sniffling about it, I asked him if I could use it here, because we all need some help from our friends sometimes.

Enjoy, and thanks, Brad.

This is Zak II. He is old, smelly, has two teeth, and is about the pickiest eater ever. He came to me from a rescue shelter after he was taken from a home with 108 dogs. He was number 47. His back leg was broken at some point and it healed crooked, so when he runs, he has to hop to make his back end keep up with the front. He has a fistula in his mouth that runs up to his nose which makes him whistle if he sleeps on his left side...which is absolutely impossible to sleep next to.

He is the most lovable old man dog I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He's stubborn and annoying, especially when another animal has one of his toys. He prefers to only do his number two at the office yard, so I sometimes have to drive him 8.7 miles to go. Of course, this is because he's figured out this is an absolute certain method of manipulation to get to go for a car ride―with the heated seat turned on.

He loves almost everybody at work and likes to snuggle with people that are having a bad day. At least until the dreaded "brown man" shows up at the door, and he turns all rabid-Rottweiler on the UPS guy, wanting to shred his legs and make sure that he never terrorizes our place of business again. We really don't know why he hates the UPS man, but it's something he is absolutely dedicated to in his beliefs.

When I get up to go to the bathroom in the night, he steals my warm spot and all my pillows and burrows down in an effort to hide himself in the warmth. He usually wins and I go to his side of the bed to not disturb his happiness. He sleeps all night in the same position, and doesn't get out of bed until after I've showered and put my socks on, enjoying each second of blessed rest before absolutely having to extract himself from the comforts of his queen size bed, which he allows me a portion of most nights.

He flirts with all the drive-through servers in town, with an extraordinary ability to get a free small French fry or chicken nugget. The bank tellers know him by name, and he expects that drawer to contain a biscuit when it returns my deposit slip. He has made friends with several other delivery persons, one of whom even has a special bag of soft treats for his toothless self to enjoy. He has trained the humans at the office to feed him with a fork―it's easier for him than sliding a plate all over trying to pick up food without his choppers. He is devastated when dinner arrives via take out and there is nothing for him in the bag.

Zak II and Brad
He is old, he has his issues, but I couldn't love any bag of fleas any more than this mongrel. He's faithful and steady in his friendship, and when I've had an emotional day, he knows just how to snuggle to make things better. His best friend is the cat that snuggles up to him nightly and gives him a good bath around two am. He catches the "slow" squirrel in front of my house every couple of weeks, licks his face, and lets him go.

Tonight, I lay here snuggling with the old mutt and thinking how thankful I am for his loyalty, his friendship, his forgiveness, and his love. I should probably take a few lessons from him, as he is a great example of how man should live. Try to love unconditionally, forgive and let go when necessary, remove and drive away the toxic people in your life so that you can be happier. Enjoy the simple blessings (like car rides and treats), rise above your afflictions, and move on from past struggles. Know when you need the care of others and when to snuggle and love those who are broken. Rest as needed, share (well, everything but special toys), and do everything faithfully and with conviction.

Lessons from Zak II.

Friday, November 3, 2017

'Twas the month before Christmas...

I wrote this in 1994 at Christmastime, when I believe I was feeling disgruntled. Not much has changed since then--about me, anyway--although the microwave's built in so I can't lose things behind it and now we have 40 years of stuff accumulated at our house instead of 17. I'm using this column here kind of early so you can get a jump on things and not do them the way I do. I haven't started yet, in case you're wondering, unless I can count this as a start...

There are people out there who have their Christmas shopping done. They are the same ones who bought all their wrapping paper, Christmas cards, bows, and tinsel last December 26.

They also keep all their Christmas shopping receipts in a separate place, like a little green and red folder, and they know at all times where that folder is located. If they have real Christmas trees, they remember to water them every day and they take them out of the house before all the needles fall off and embed themselves in the carpet.

These people's tree ornaments match each other. The ethereal angels or brilliant stars they use do not cause the trees to lean drunkenly. There are never full strings of non-working lights on the trees and the lights all twinkle at the same speed or they chase each other merrily around the branches.

Their Christmas cookies and candy are made and frozen well ahead of time and they have plenty of decorative tins and baskets on hand so that all they have to do is add a pretty handmade bow and they have an instant gift for the unexpected guest.

I decided many years ago, on a Christmas Eve when I was sewing the last ruffles

on my daughter's Christmas dress at two o'clock on Christmas morning before she and her brothers rolled out at five, that when I grew up, I was going to be one of the people I've been talking about.

My first step in that direction was to buy wrapping paper the day after Christmas for the following year. Then we moved to a different house. It just seemed foolish when we were already moving 10 times as much stuff out of the old house as we moved into it to also move 12 rolls of paper and 50 bows, so I gave them away instead of moving them. Then, two weeks later, I went out and bought all new because we moved in November, for heaven's sake. (Moving is not good for one's thought processes. While I did not move the wrapping paper, I did move several boxes that remain unopened in the attic 17 years later.)
Lynn with the cold heart

My next organizational move was to buy and address Christmas cards as soon as they hit the shelves, which was somewhere along about July. I even addressed them in green ink to make them look properly Christmas-like. Then I proceeded to lose them, along with the complete list of addresses I'd called all over the country to compile.

My sister-in-law Lynn, bless her cold little heart, found them long after Christmas had passed, nestled behind the microwave oven. Fifteen years later, I'm still telling her it's none of her business how often I clean behind my appliances. Or if I do.

Then there's shopping.

Occasionally, I start it in August. More often, I start in October and now and then in November. I've discovered that it doesn't matter when I start Christmas shopping, I finish it on Christmas Eve. Last year my husband and I were only two of the 3000 people in Walmart at 11 o'clock on Christmas Eve morning and we decided we would never, neverdo such a foolish thing again.

At least until this year.

Because, all advice I've given freely and unasked to people not withstanding, I've given up.

I'm never going to be one of those people who have Christmas organized. I will always be a day late and a dollar short and my favorite Christmas tree ornaments will still be the ones my kids brought home from the first grade. My tree top will still be crooked and I'll always have needles embedded in my carpet even though we have an artificial tree. The cookies and candy will always be made at the last minute if they're made at all and eaten warm off a dish towel lying on the kitchen counter.

What it amounts to is, at least as far as Christmas is concerned, I am like Peter Pan: I won't grow up.

I hope you won't, either. I hope you have fun shopping and wrapping and decorating. And don't forget the giving. It's the very best part of it all.

Till next time.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hey, there, Warrior Team...

I wrote the article in March of 1990, but the memories are from March of 1968. Maybe I should have kept this until March of 2018, when it will be 50 years since our school went to the dance, but I found it today and basketball season's coming on fast, so here it is. Tweaked a little, but not much. Do you remember?
March 8, 1968 Peru Tribune

We were just a little bitty school out in the sticks. We'd never won the championship in anything but livestock judging. If we went over 50-50 in basketball, it was an outstanding season. If we made it though the sectional without any snowstorms or other similar tragedies, it was going to be a good spring.

But then it was 1968, and I was a senior in high school. There were 92 of us, and the only thing some of us wanted remember about school was getting out of it in May and never, never having to go back.

Until we won the Logansport sectional.

It was, in the vernacular of a subsequent generation, awesome.

By the time we--we being North Miami--had advanced to the final game of the sectional, every cheering section in Logansport's famous Berry Bowl was rooting for us. Everybody except the Berries themselves, that is, and you couldn't really blame them. After all, we were beating them.

The motorcade going home from Logansport was nearly endless, and we were escorted part of the way by police and fire vehicles. Once back on our own turf, we filled the gym well past capacity and had an impromptu pep session in the middle of the night. It was our first sectional and local media were touting us as the Cinderella ball team.

The week at school passed in a blur of pep sessions and days of wearing strange clothing and classes spent talking about basketball in the hushed-by-hoarseness voices that abound after an exciting ball game.

Come Friday, we were still whispering, but we all piled into the fan buses or attached ourselves to the motorcade and went to the regional. Once there, the whispers gave way to screams and--wonder of holy wonders--LITTLE NORTH MIAMI WON THE WHOLE THING!

The line of cars going back to school was even longer this time. We were accompanied by even more flashing red lights. The gym bulged precariously at the seams. The little school in the boonies had become "the mouse that roared."

We even had a slogan, given to us by the coach of a neighboring school. "We're not satisfied!" became the Warrior battle cry. It reached the point that some of the players grimaced whenever they heard those three words, and they heard them at every turn. Signs cropped up in cornfields that proclaimed the area to be "Warrior Country." Cinderella's night went on.

The following Saturday, still whispering, we loaded up and went to Lafayette to the semi-state. We won the first game. We had advanced from the Sweet Sixteen to being one of only eight teams left. The mouse roared even louder.

But that night, the Warriors met the team who would become 1968's state champions, and the ball was over. The proverbial clock struck midnight, and we went home in defeat. We lost, but we were satisfied.

And now it's 1990. I have screamed my way through my own son's high school basketball career and am now in the process of screaming my way though his brother's football career. 1968 is long ago and far away.

Or is it? Sometimes when I'm in the gym--my kids go to the same school I did--I can close my eyes and remember how it felt in there on those victorious nights.

And sometimes when things get difficult and success seems to be an unknown quality destined to escape me forever, I remember what was accomplished by the little team that could.

North Miami basketball has never reached the semi-state again, but the memory of that long-ago journey lingers on with many of us.

We were, for a brief, shining time, the Cinderella school. And the dance we attended was grand. Just grand.

2017: Thanks to Dale Jones, Mike Coffing, Randy Smith, Mike Walters, Dave Collins, Frank Miller, Roger Grismore, Mike Devine, Mike Skinner, Gary Baker, Bob Pontius, Dick Moyer, and Coach Jerry Lewis (as well as anyone I may have missed) for giving so many of us such a great thing to keep in the memory banks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"I'm younger than that now..."

This is from August 17, 2015. I was still so pumped when I wrote it--I got pumped again when I found it to reprint it in Window Over the Sink. I am so glad and so grateful to have come of age when I did, with the songs that were my sound track to adulthood. There are some things that no amount of revisionist history can lessen and the music of the 60s is one of them.

“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did'.” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I was 13 when the Beatles came to America and to the Ed Sullivan Show to nestle into the hearts of so many of us. I bought all their records and tried to grow my frizzy brown hair out long, straight, and sleek. I sat through A Hard Day’s Night at least 10 times, but I never got to go to a concert. I was, in the vernacular of the day, a Beatlemaniac.
          That left me sometime after the White Album and prior to the birth of my first child, but I’m still unable to stand still or be quiet when an early Beatles’ song comes on the radio.
          Well, shake it up, baby now—twist and shout...c’mon, c’mon...
          Oh, excuse me.
          Last night, we went to see 1964 The Tribute perform. We were in
nosebleed seats and, in truth, didn’t expect all that much because, of course, we were there for the whole, real thing, so what could possibly...
          Oh, yeah, I’ll tell you something...I think you’ll understand...
          And then I did. Understand, I mean.
          Most of us in the huge crowd were baby boomers. We remembered JFK, Martin Luther King, and RFK and their lives and deaths. We remembered “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and Peace not War...
          All we are saying is give peace a chance...
          Only they didn’t, of course, give peace a chance. We remember Vietnam, too.
          A lot of us wore flowy things in the 60s. Long floaty skirts with sandals and shawl-type things over tank tops. No bras. Last night, a lot of us still wore flowy things. Only now we do it because we’re shaped differently and flowy works well with the changes. Not only do we wear bras, many of us won’t leave the house without underwires.
          Pride can hurt you too...apologize to her...
          Oh, God, I love this music!
          Duane and I were alone at the concert, but we weren’t. Not really. All around us, everyone knew the words. When to clap. When to stand. When to laugh out loud and say...
          I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.
          Oops, those are Dylan lyrics. But they fit.
          I would have loved a Beatles concert in the 60s, but no more than I loved the Tribute concert last night. Because the mechanisms you use for thinking and feeling and listening are honed and tightened by age and the intensity of those particular processes is excruciatingly wonderful to experience. I know I talk about age too much here—that’s because I know so much about it. And because it’s such a lovely thing.
          I’m always surprised when people don’t believe in happily ever afters, when they don’t believe love ever lasts, when they don’t know what an enormous gift life is. Maybe it is because they don’t write romance or Yes I Can women’s fiction—or maybe it’s because they don’t read it.
          I hope you do one or the other or both, and that as life goes on you focus on how glorious it all is. Now to the question—I know, there’s always a question, but what musical group affects you the way the Beatles still do me? Have you seen them in concert?
          Have a great week!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Christine, James Drury, and Me

I wrote this in October of 2014. I had  a new book out--always a good thing--but was feeling melancholy, too. I've felt that way a lot this past year, too. Makes me more grateful than ever for sisters--by birth, by marriage, and of the heart. They are precious all.

Her name was Christine Ann and she died of diphtheria when she was three, nine years before I was born. In the few pictures of her that remain, she has straight white blonde hair and sturdy legs in long cotton stockings. “I always thought she would have been big when she grew up,” my mother said. My father never talked about her. My other sister, Nancy, who was two years older than Christine, still grieves.

I was the youngest in my family. There were three brothers between my sisters and me. I was a girly girl on a farm, and I was lonely. So I thought a lot about Christine. I was convinced she would have liked me. She would have wanted to play house with me and talk about Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’d have been a willing participant in dress-up, swinging high enough to touch that branch up there, and playing with kittens in the hay mow in the barn.

I used to pretend, when I was unhappy, that she had not died. She was not only my sister, but my imaginary friend.

For years after her death, Mom would write notes to her in her baby book. “You would be nine today…what a big girl…we miss you so much.” I used to cry over the baby book, for the sister I never knew, for Nancy who’d lost the sister she really loved, for Mom and Dad, who surely would have liked me better if they hadn’t lost her. I cried for myself, too, because I never felt I measured up to the invisible daughter-sister bar.

Years after the last time I read my mother’s notes to Christine in her baby book, someone wrote an article in RWR about wanting the heroine in books she read to be her sister. This was years before I was published, before I’d even finished the first dreadful manuscript. I don’t remember the article well enough to quote it, nor do I know who wrote it, but I knew then what kind of women would populate my stories.

They would be sisters. Even if they were only children, they would have best friends they loved like sisters. They would be flawed, often pretty but probably not beautiful. Some would be heavy, some skinny. None of them would have particularly good hair unless they had broad hips to offset it. They wouldn’t dress especially well, excel at very many things, or cry prettily. They would be neither brave nor stupid. When they sang, it would be out of tune, but they would sing anyway.

I am meandering in this post, for which I apologize, but Christine’s birthday would have been October 11 and she is on my mind a lot. I’ve only lately realized how much her brief life and too-early death had to do with me being a romance writer.

Because her story was the first one I ever made up.

She not only swung with me and read with me and played with me in the quiet of the barn, but in my imagination, I saw her as an adult whose bright blue eyes never faded, whose blonde hair never darkened. The twelve years between us would have been like nothing if she’d lived. She’d have married a man who looked like James Drury. He would have liked it if Christine’s little sister spent vacations and long weekends with them. They lived, oh, yes, happily ever after.

I’ve aged, but in my mind she has not. The tenderness, angst, and sweetness of those imaginings are as clear to me today as they were when I was a little girl missing the sister I’d never known. I still miss her, but I think I was wrong. I think I knew her after all. Happy birthday, Christine.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Confessions of a square peg

I wrote this in 2004, seven years before I retired from the proverbial day job. Although I loved the workplace where I spent 30 years, I was happy to leave it. Most of the "good work" in my classification was gone, replaced by bigger machines and bigger offices, so all I really missed was the people I worked with. I was startled when I read back over this that I'd used the word "broad" more than once, because I hate the term as much now as I did then. It was in this workplace that I learned a lot about sexism--including the fact that I am sometimes guilty of it myself--and a few other of the isms that continual to do structural damage to society. 

I wore my favorite green slacks (size ten) and the velour shirt that matched them. I was thirty; age-wise I fell to the younger side of the middle of the work force at my new job. One of five women in an office of fifty employees, I was so nervous on that first day I must have gone to pee every half hour. Which was, several men commented dryly, no more than they expected from a broad. They supposed I would be the next one to get pregnant and stand around and ask for help and not be able to do my job.

What was I doing here? I certainly didn't fit.

Two of the women I worked with were pregnant. They didn't stand around, and they always did their jobs. We all did, and the only ones we asked for help were each other, because we didn't like being called broads and we didn't like being bitched about.

I learned a lot in that first few months. That some men gossiped and lied and that cute young women in tight pants (smaller than a size ten) didn't have to work as hard as others. That no one cared if my youngest had spots and a temperature of a hundred and climbing; I was supposed to be at work. On time.

But I also learned that working with men isn't really much different from working with women. I had female bosses who were as susceptible to a fresh-out-of-college man with washboard abs and a beguiling wink as their male counterparts were to the aforementioned cute, young, and tightly wrapped. I learned that behavior explained as PMS in women is just a bad mood in men.

I worked very, very hard because that was the way I was brought up and because, truth be told, more was expected from the five women. We had to prove that we could do historically male jobs as well as the men. So we did. After while, no one used the term "broad" very much and though the bitching didn't lessen, it did become pretty much gender-blind, which was all most of us cared about.

Now I'm fifty-something. I wear blue jeans to work most days, the ones with elastic insets in the sides of the waist because now I buy a size fourteen. The office still has about fifty people, but the man-woman ratio is closer to fifty-fifty these days. Of the women in that equation, I am the oldest. Young, cute, and well-built still pays off - time hasn't changed human nature that much. Working hard, once a source of personal pride, has become something rather pointless, even foolish. Response to the word "loyalty" is generally a blank look. Be on time? Why?

"I hate this place," I mutter on a semi-daily basis. My friends and I talk about retirement, counting off the days toward it like children waiting for Christmas. We talk about traveling at our convenience rather than our employers', being Wal-Mart greeters, sleeping till we feel like getting up. It will be so much fun, we say, even though we'll have to be more careful with money and pray harder for good health since insurance costs will be heart-stopping. We can't wait!

Oh, but there's the rub, because I can wait; I'm not ready. I want to give my 401k a chance to recuperate a little from its recent dip into the toilet. I'd also like to shore up my mad money account, buy some new appliances, and maybe trade cars. I have a new grandchild due to arrive in Vermont in March. I live in the Midwest, and I want to see this sixth grandbaby more than the once a year my retirement income will allow.

I've always planned on retiring at sixty, or fifty-five at the earliest, but I don't feel welcome in the workplace anymore. I work too hard, and have little patience with office politics and tales of who's bonking whom. I resent pregnancy being treated as an illness calling for hours of break-room rest instead of a planned condition that one works through with care. I'm sick to death of the cry of "it's not my job" no matter what the job is and of the terse "because I can" when a supervisor is asked the reason for an order that seems out of line.

What am I doing here? I certainly don't fit.

But I've learned more things as the years have gone by.

My work ethic is mine, and it's not something I can visit on someone else just because I don't like theirs. Although I will still give loyalty because I don't know how to do anything else, I am now smart enough not to expect it in return. I've learned, and repeat to myself almost every day, that my employers don't have to value me; they have only to pay me. I finally accept that being in the minority on an issue doesn't make me right or wrong; it makes me out-voted. Being a sort-of-liberal residing in Indiana, I should have known that anyway, but I'm still voting for underdogs every time. I don't fit in my ultraconservative geographical area any better than I do in my thirties-oriented workplace.

But my home is still my home, and my place of work is still where my paycheck comes from. Just as I love my neighborhood even if I am a square peg in its round hole, so do I like the office where I've spent twenty-some years of my working life. And it really doesn't matter if I fit.