Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tales of the prom...

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

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

It doesn't pay.

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

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

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

Kids today have no sense of humor.

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

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

"Great," I said happily.

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

So much for retirement.

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

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

Not his own. Heaven forbid.

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

Which leaves his father's.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll miss them.

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

On being retired...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hey, Mom...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week. Make that appointment.

Till next time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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

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

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

It’s about the library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Looking back...and forward

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

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

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

I wish you joy.