Friday, August 31, 2018

The Best Part of the Day

Some months ago (maybe a year, I forget) John built a new headboard for our bed. It has a shelf that’s three inches deep (I measured it). I bought orange bamboo sheets in Wisconsin, and my daughter Sue gave us her orange electric candles. At night it glows. 

We have a new bedtime habit (this will not embarrass you, I promise). 
We get into all that orange-ness and talk. 
Question: What was the best part of your day?
  • It could be as simple as the beauty of a single white cosmos with pink edges. 
  • It could be a response from his client...finally. (Note: this can lead into a long discussion on door pulls.)
  • It could be a friendly phone voice at a pharmacy.
  • It could be pleasure in cooking (me).
  • It could be a good dinner (him).

Sometimes we have the think on it a while. Hmmm? What was the best thing? Some days are so ordinary—flipping back though the file cards of our day takes an effort. But there is always something good. 
  • Self-congratulations for filling a whole yard waste bag with weeds.
  • Finishing a bunk bed ladder for the Wisconsin trailer.
  • Fulfilling my self-promise to do one sketch everyday in my journal. 

Sometimes there’s an abundance of good, which keeps us awake longer.

Although we worry about things going on in the world: the latest political scandal, wild fires or raging floods or blistering heat, and especially innocent children separated from their parents. We don’t go to sleep haunted by them.

We go the sleep thinking about something good that happened in our day. And actually maybe the best part of our day is the happy ending.

So tell me, what was the best part of your day?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Spilling the Beans

Today I spilled the beans…brewed beans…coffee. I knocked a whole cup over and stained the perfectly nice gray carpet in my study. I have a study to write in—I’m so lucky.

And then I broke the garbage disposal by feeding it kale and eggshells and shrimp tails all at the same time. Yes, I ate shrimp—I’m so lucky.

We had to take John’s car to the dealership this morning for the fourth time, ($360 today for a new wiring harness) because his power steering kept going out, ever since mice ate the power cables two summers ago when we were at the farm.

We have a farmhouse and land and a beautiful lake in Wisconsin, that John and his two brothers inherited—we’re so lucky.

Yesterday my car was at the dealership ($180) to clean-out my clogged fuel injectors. We have two cars—we’re so lucky.

And yesterday I stuck a spoon in the silverware holder in the dishwasher and a fork tine stabbed me under my thumbnail. It still hurts. We have a dishwasher—we’re so lucky.


Today I emailed my friend Pat. She and her husband are fleeing South Florida before IRMA hits. They’ve got the puppy with them. They’re preparing her to be a service dog for a soldier with PTSD. (PTSD—not lucky). What will home be like for them when they go back?

People in Houston and Louisiana, are going home—but to what? Mud and mold. Homes and cars gone.

Young people, who’ve made lives here, are unsure day by day, if and when they’ll be deported to a country they don’t know.

Fires are eating huge swathes of land and homes in Western states: California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.

Our president is twittering war games with North Korea, and threatening a trade war with China.

Things are really mucked up/f'ed up/un-lucked up. Big things.

But for most of us, just in our day-to-day life, we are really lucky.

For those who aren’t so lucky—us lucky ones need to help.


Then VOTE for people who aren’t climate change deniers. Who will honor the value of diversity in this country. And who won’t bumble us into another war.

Note: I just banged my shin into the corner of the coffee table. I have a fresh cup of coffee and a coffee table—I’m so lucky.

I hope you are too.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fresh eyes

First readers are an important part of my writing process. I’m not talking about preschoolers, or first graders, I’m talking about friends and family who read my novels before anyone else. Before it’s an actual printed book, when it’s still in process or finished (supposedly) with plenty of errors—typos, missed question marks, fuzzy wording, maybe even fuzzy characters or situations. After I’ve read the book at least a billion times it still needs reading by kind volunteers.

Readers are the people who “make it work,” as Tim Gunn might say on Project Runway. When I’m writing a novel I can be too close to see it as clearly as a friend who hasn’t been mulling this story over in their head for a couple years. Fresh eyes!

When I wrote Intentional, my first readers all got paper manuscripts. For A Bird in the House some readers said they’d prefer the book in digital form. I did that. After all, reading my blemished manuscript is doing me a big favor. But the problem with reading a book digitally is that errors found are errors that have to be written down somewhere (or not), and it turns out mostly Or Not applies. So the next novel will only be shared with early readers in printed form.

The exception was John (husband) who read it in PDF Expert on his iPad. He was able to mark it up in red on the screen with his Apple pen...he’s so fancy.

When I give a reader the printed copy of the novel I try to include a red pen. “Please,” I say, “write on it. I want to know where you like it, and where you hate it. If you see a typo, or what you think may be a typo—mark it.”

You see, I’m putting these friends to work. Help me, I’m begging.

However, sometimes readers don’t want to mess up the paper. Sometimes they use a pencil and write faintly to keep the manuscript clean. But how can I whine when they were nice enough to read the damn book. After they finish with it, they nicely tell me that they liked it. Thank you.

My own mother would be harder on me. Brutal. I miss my mother.

When Kristen Schoettle read Intentional she inserted little hand drawn emojis on the margins. Smiles. Frowns. Tear drops. Grammar corrections. “Ha-ha” here and there. She had suggestions for additions—especially climate related. It was wonderful. Exactly what I longed for.

When I was only a third into writing A Bird in the House, I reached a scary point where I was feeling vulnerable and exposed—frozen. So I asked Kim McLott, my friend since the third grade, to read what I had. The next day she called and told me to hurry up, “Get writing, and don’t come out of your room until you’re done.” (French author Colette was locked in a room by her husband Willy until she produced something salable.) Kim wanted to know what happened next. I might never have finished without her enthusiasm.

And then there were long phone calls with Lynn Bell, helping me solve the problem of a four-year old who was smarter than she should be.

Carol Winslow brought me a stack of research on social services, and read and reread scenes that I struggled with.

Ed Sharples, retired professor of literature, was as tough on me as my mother would have been, and I am grateful.

My daughter Sue said, “You write better than the author of Fifty Shades of Gray.” Whew! That’s a relief.

Ann Amenta said, “You can’t play Fur Elise if you’ve never had piano lessons.”

Barbara Aylward listed comments
on a sweet note with her grandsons photo.

There are many others—each finding a blip here or there, but all commenting in supportive ways.

They say that writing is a lonely endeavor, but its outcome is so much better with a little help from your friends.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Give That Woman A Fish

It’s a winter wonderland out there. Snow is snowing. Wind is blowing. All this snow, plus all the pretty lights on peoples’ house fronts, plus all the ads for sales—Amazon keeps flashing me images of forbidden treats, jiggling temptations before my computer illuminated eyes (could this be customer harassment?) all this Xmasy stuff leaves no doubt that it’s present giving time.

Santa will be coming soonI’ve known that since October when Costco had Xmas candles and Halloween costumes doing row dances for the holly/jolly days.

But, Hey! What happened to Thanksgiving?

Ahh, but Gobble-Gobble day—a sweet dream of a trip to the country, over the river and through the woods—is past, spent devouring my brother Tom’s turkey slathered in bacon. Family. It’s a good thing.

Black Friday is over too, and I duly supported Citi Cards. Now, as Xmas eve draws near, I look forward to the delight of another family gathering...and I’m thinking of my mother.

My mother was a bit of a Grinch. For many years she balanced herself on a tiny stool in the back of the Birmingham Post Office throwing/sorting mail on the midnight shift. Christmas involved everyone in the world sending everyone else in the world a card. She never got a day off from Thanksgiving to New Years, which tends to make a one cranky or go postal. She chose cranky. She slept days, and dreaded the holidays. 

I was already a grown-up with my own family then. She lived with my grandmother and my (way younger) brother and sister. She was a very overworked single mom, and adored by all of us, including our friends. She was a person you could talk to about anything.  She was funny (I got my weird sense of humor from her), sarcastic (I got that too), and loving (I hope I got that). 

“So, Mom, when aren't you working or sleeping so we can celebrate Christmas,” I’d ask.

Baa, humbug,” she’d answer. But she did get one day offChristmas Dayand we did get together.

Gifts were a serious problem. She didn’t like anything. I gave her some cute outfits, but at Easter they still graced the dining room table in their boxes. One year Tom gave her a beautiful down coat that she never wore.

She was compulsively frugal. Seriously. Clinically frugal. Maybe because of the Depression, maybe because most of the time she was the bread-winner and women didn't get paid all that well. 

Her greatest pleasure was finding good (not bulging) dented cans of food and day old bread. She liked brussel sprouts, so one autumn I gave her a stalk of sprouts from the Farmers’ Market. She called me a couple days later and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” The sprouts were too much work.

At Christmas, birthdays, and any, and all holidays, if you gave her a card it should be unsigned so she could give it back to you on the next holiday. Cards were not her favorite thing...remember, she worked at the post office.

So one Christmas, when I was at a total loss of what to get her, I bought her a whole salmon. A whole friggin’ salmon is more work than a stalk of sprouts, but I did it anyway. I was nervous. How should you wrap a twelve-pound salmon? In Santa paper? No, she wouldn’t want me to waste money on wrapping. So I just left it in the grocery bag, and when I handed it to her, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mom.” She took the fish. 

And then, shock of all shocks: it was the best present she ever got. She told me so.

So, Dear Friends, the lesson here is if you’re ever in doubt about a giftgive that woman a fish.

Merry Christmas, Everyone. 

I miss you, Mom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What's Left

I had a terrible headache last night. When I woke up this morning, it was worse. In bed, I reached one hand up to my head, analyzing where the pain was located. I opened my eyesno spots. I used to get migraines. This wasn’t one.

5:00 a.m. I checked my iPhone. NY Times News Alert...Donald Trump won the election.

After some aspirin and a mouthful of bread, I just wanted quiet. No news is good news right? But being a glutton for punishment, I pressed the TV remote’s buttons anyway. Someone said, “The educated coastal elites haven’t been paying enough attention to middle America... and that’s why Trump lovers were so mad” or something like that. That’s why Trump won. I turned the TV off.

I am a rustbelt-far-left-leaning-liberal.

I voted for Bernie, and then, without holding my nose, or thinking I was picking the lesser of too evilsI voted for Hillary. She had devoted her life to public service. Trump devoted his to acquiring: wives, buildings, debts he didn’t pay, a school that was a con, etc.

The first hours of grief are the hardest. The novel I’ve been working on for the past two years seemed worthless. Why bother. But there’s always eating, so I did quite a bit of that, then I decided to clean...something I don’t decide to do very often.

Next, I checked out what my liberal friends were saying on Facebook. There were several mentions of moving to Canada.

I thought again about the derogatory comment about liberals. So I asked myself what is a liberal? What am I?

Answer: I am a leftie. Right handed, left politically. Actually, I’m one of those dangerous extreme liberals.

As an Extreme Leftie:
  • I believe that we should treat each other with respect—whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, or financial status.
  • I believe that sick people should be able to get health care.
  • I believe that children are entitled to a good public education.
  • I believe in helping the less privileged.
  • I believe old people (especially those in physical jobs) shouldn’t have to work until 70 to get Social Security. 
  • I believe college should be affordable.
  • I believe in paying my taxes.
  • I believe people must have clean water.
  • I believe black lives matter. 
  • I believe that each woman should be able to decide whether or not she gives birth.
  • I believe that climate change is real.
  • I believe in kindness, caring and listening. (I’m trying to get better at that listening one).

Although Canada is a lovely country, I will stay here. I'm an American. And I will continue having (and expressing) my extreme views.