Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pets are family members, too

We are recovering from the holidays and basking in the fact that we actually got all of our packages sent in time for them to arrive before Christmas day. The UPS man is my new best friend!

From what we've heard so far, we chose the right sizes, the right colors, the right items this year.

We made one last minute purchase. We assumed that we'd give the cats their usual can of catfood wrapped in Christmas paper or a bag of treats. But the treats still sit in the pantry from last year. It seemed like the right time to upgrade their gifts to something they might enjoy every day.

With that in mind, we headed to the Pet Supermarket down the street and surprised the sleepy-eyed clerks by purchasing one of those thingamajigs that are about five foot tall, have sleeping alcoves and shelves for the cats, a scratching post, and all of it covered in carpet.

The clerks came to life, took our money, and crammed the monstrosity into our car. Once home we managed to get it in the house where the cats sniffed it and promptly walked away. After awhile they came back to investigate and I managed to snap a photo before they abandoned it for a nap on our bed. On the way to the bedroom, they all took a turn sharpening their claws on my favorite chair, evidently it is their favorite, too.

Cats! We may resort to reverse psychology and try to shoo them off of the new cat furniture -- if only they'd go near it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Greatest Gifts

It wasn't shaping up to be a great Christmas. But why should it, the year hadn't produced the miracles I so desperately wanted.

Two thousand and seven had been a tough year. Not just the war and government leadership disasters, and economic worries, but this has been the year when I had to face that my husband who can do anything. ANYTHING! Well, I had to face that he just might not be able to shake off the disease that has him in its clutches.

The clues have been piling up -- shortness of breath, weak muscles from head to toe. But when he suggested that he should get a wheelchair, I knew he had accepted that the doctors were probably right. It was time to give him quality of life, as good as technology and substitutes for his body could provide.

So a deluxe power chair sits in our garage and next year we add the ramps, the custom fit van and whatever else we need to make it possible for him to perambulate wherever he wants or needs to go.

He was a tough linebacker in middle school when I first met him. He played through high school, college and went semi-pro, relishing the challenge and the physical clash as a pigskin warrior. He continued with the game as a referee, running up and down the field in a striped shirt and white knickers, armed with whistle and flag. When the season ended, he exchanged the knickers for black slacks and refereed basketball -- his second love. He was always doing -- helping with sports, mentoring kids in 4-H. He particularly adored the rocket projects. He and the other leaders were as enthusiastic about shooting projectiles in the air as any kid.

He still loves the Three Stoodges and at this time of year, wipes a tear whenever Tiny Tim declares, "God Bless Us Everyone." Now he's beginning to identify with Tiny Tim a bit more than we ever expected and I don't see some redeemed Scrooge coming to save the day. But I haven't totally given up hope.

You see gifts keep appearing in the strangest places. Yesterday was a prime example. I opened my emails to find a YES from an editor in a dream market I'd been hoping to sell to. Yes, yes, yes. And she offered me the most I have ever received in payment for an essay -- it should just about cover Christmas expenses. (Whew! Ordering online is too easy.)

Then, last night, after a delightful Christmas party at work, a day spent among friends and smiles and laughter, I came home to tidy up before Derrol's friend came over to watch, what else, the football game.

When the doorbell rang, I expected to see his smiling face. Instead a gigantic poinsettia greeted me in the voice of our neighbor, John. He peeked his head out from behind the plant and grinned, "Merry Christmas. I'm playing Santa." Then he swallowed and thrust the poinsettia into my arms as he said, "God bless you and Derrol. God bless you."

And I knew he was seeing us on that day a couple of months ago when we first took Derrol's wheelchair out for a walk around the neighborhood. John had been working in his yard and it was his first clue that things were not well with us. It was a shock to him to see his sturdy neighbor sitting in a wheelchair. I could hear his words from that day ringing between the lines of his Christmas wish -- "I'll be right here -- whatever you need. Just let me know." So when I see this huge flower dwarfing my dining room table, I know it is John's way of saying, "I'm still here -- whatever you need."

Derrol's friend showed up and he came bearing gifts. To my surprise one was a gift bag for me. I opened it to find a lovely pressed glass candy dish -- how did he know I love all things glass? And beneath it was a bag of Derrol's favorite candies to put in the dish. But, he gave me one more gift. He turned to me and said, "Merry Christmas," and then he gave me a hug.

As my husband weakens, Tom has been there working in the yard, helping at the office so Derrol can stay employed, being a friend, never saying anything, just doing. That hug told me, he understands that Derrol's not the only one having a tough time.

If anyone doubts that there are angels on earth -- they just need to come to my house. I'll introduce you to two of my favorites: John and Tom. Two of my greatest gifts this holiday season -- and all year long.

Of course if I were to list all of my angels, it would take a much longer blog. You know who you are I hope -- Mary, Deb, Peggy, Linda, my brother and his wife, Lyn, Kathi, Gary, Joyce M., Mona, ... you all prop me up when I need it, keep me balanced and smiling and I couldn't last one day without you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book series recommendation

Since I began reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon I have been searching for something equally entertaining to keep me reading until the next book comes out in 2009. Its been a chore. She's spoiled me for just about anything else!

But thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine I have found a fun new series that I can enjoy. I review books for them and they sent me Steve Hockensmith's latest novel in the Holmes on the Range series: The Black Dove. It will be released in bookstores in February, 2008. But the good news it is the third in the series, so there are two Anthony, Agatha, Dilly and Edgar award nominated books to read before the third is released.

My review will appear in the Mystery Scene Magazine sometime before February, 2008, but let me just say here that I could gush on and on about this well written book. Truly a well written, thought out, constructed, imagined, plotted book. Love, love, love the tone, the one liners -- I laughed out loud in several spots. Just couldn't stop myself; even scared the cat.

The idea of the historic series is that two brothers, down-on-their-luck cowboys, become infatuated with Sherlock Holmes, a serial of his adventures appears in the Harper's Magazine and one of the brothers even tries his hand at writing the brothers' exploits for a magazine. These cowboys decide they want to be detectives. Told in the narration of the younger brother 'Big Red' it is hilarious. Asides and relationship issues between the dower older brother and gregarious younger sibling. Multi faceted story line.

It is as the author admits, a combining of two very different eras -- the restrictive repressive Victorian era of Holmes and the wild, wild west of the 1890s.

The part I really like is that the author does not make light of death or moral issues. He highlights them and his protagonists are moral, upright, honorable, hilarious knights of the open range.

If you get a chance, please try Hockensmith's series, beginning with "Holmes on the Range" and followed by "On the Wrong Track"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Impoverished Princesses

My husband and I took visitors to Disney Downtown for a little excursion. We're cheap, frugal, and unable to justify the ever rising admission costs to the theme parks.

Admission is free to Disney Downtown because it is basically a shopping mall Disney style. But it is quaint, colorful, clean and has free music and entertainment. The Legoland displays are worth the effort alone. Fend off the chocolate perfume eminating from the Ghirardelli chocolate shop and bypass the princess makeover area and the tourist kitch shops. We can't in all honesty recommend the riverboat restaurant -- quite disappointing and has limitations for people with handicaps. But the landscape is luxurious, pastoral, serene and if you get there early enough you can avoid the heat and crowds and truly enjoy the setting.

We made the mistake of venturing into the princess area and watched as delightful little giggling girls were transformed into teased and rouged clones dressed in the cheapest gaudiest, sparkliest Halloween costume-ish dresses. They waved their little magic wands and poof hundreds of their parents' dollars disappeared into Disney's coffers.

They wore plastic shoes that were to represent glass slippers and paste and plastic tiaras and any resemblance to true beauty, innocence and feminine potential were lost beneath those layers of frou-frou fashion. They looked like mini-me prostitutes. And their mothers and grandmothers were so proud.

Barbara Ehrenreich has written a blog about the Disney princesses. It reinforces thoughts I had the other day. For some reason I too was thinking about what we teach our daughters about being female, about what it is to be a woman. And right now it seems that mothers and daughters are caught up in the need to be sex objects. Not all mothers and daughters, but even those seeking science careers seem to be interested in making themselves over into something that fits a stereotype of what the perfect woman is.

We're all born perfect. We have our own individual spirits. Why would we want to be someone else? Someone not nearly as interesting and unique?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Book Review: The Pirate's Daughter

Due to a contract that I couldn't bring myself to sign and a market that would not alter the contract wording to a kinder-gentler, less in your face, buy-all attitude, this review never saw the light of day.

Today I saw several reviews of Pirate's Daughter at Amazon and other online venues and think that this offers a bit more detail and information than those, so I'm posting it here. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it has stayed with me, so maybe that makes it better than I first thought.

I'm a sucker for titles that have the word 'daughter' in the title. And there seem to be a lot of them. I also stop to peruse books with 'wife' in the title and have several to be read. Too often the title is the best part of the book.

Another aspect that draws me to this book is Errol Flynn -- my husband is named after this swashbuckler -- but turned out to be a much better man than Errol Flynn, based upon Flynn's biographical information and my 35 years of marriage -- I could be a bit biased on this point.

The Pirate’s Daughter
Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Unbridled Books, Denver, CO
392 Pages
Hardcover, $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-952961409

Two generations of women lose their innocence, face violence, rejection, and betrayals, while finding love and friendship in this coming-of-age story that reflects Jamaica’s own bid for independence. The family lineage follows Jamaica’s history from the Maroons, escaped slaves who set up communities in the mountains; to an influx of expatriates, British rule, and wealthy celebrities seeking a playground; to a discovery of balance and harmony and new birth.

The prologue, best understood after reading the book, introduces readers to May, a 26-year old young woman whose name reflects her questions – when May I, where May I, with whom May I find a place where I belong? Her I-centric mother, beautiful Ida, serves as the lynch pin on which this novel revolves. Men enter and leave the mother and daughter’s lives. Each character is allowed to be human, with flaws, strengths and mistakes to correct.

Ida, a child blossoming into womanhood and adored by her Syrian father and Maroon/Chinese mother, falls for the charming and aging Errol Flynn. The American swashbuckling movie star in real life did run aground during a storm in 1946, fall in love with Jamaica and build a home on a nearby island – a kind of Jamaican Tara. There the facts end, and fiction proceeds.

Ida gives birth to their daughter, May. Flynn flees and Ida heads to America to find work and a way to support her child. She leaves May behind to dream of pirates, hidden treasure and her movie star father. While at the mercy of caretakers who by turns ignore and abuse her, May endures the taunts of Jamaican peers “White witch! You white like duppy [ghost]!” Only her childhood friend and playmate, Derek, stands by and protects her, showing up when needed most.

Lies, drugs, and a violent tug-of-war for control of Jamaica’s government destroy the paradise. Each generation of women gains strength as the country also finds the power to rebuild. Ida and May share many of the same attributes as Scarlett O’Hara of the classic “Gone With The Wind” as they fight for home and family and men they love, but shouldn’t.

Cezair-Thompson, who teaches literature and creative writing at Wellesley College, weaves pirates and hidden treasure throughout the novel, adding another exotic element to an already rich setting. This, the author’s second novel, is told in a quiet, simple style, and sprinkled with Jamaican speech, beliefs, and details that the author learned during her childhood in Jamaica. It follows her first novel “The True History of Paradise,” a finalist for the Dublin International IMPAC Award.

The intertwining of Jamaica history and the characters’ lives elevates this novel from simply entertaining to truly memorable.###

(October 2006) Dawn Goldsmith

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas with a bah humbug twist

It’s all good.

From all reports this is Siemens best year -- ever. Profits are up, expenses down, good deals were brokered, riff-raff and dead wood expunged, new geniuses hired, new systems installed to increase the flow and decrease the drag that leads to lower profits. It seems that if all you care about is profits -- Siemens is a blue ribbon winner.

Most recently Siemens, a German conglomerate active in 190 countries, picked up positive headlines for naming female winners in its latest competition in math, science and technology. The girls brought home $100,000 for their efforts.

Siemens wins Russian contract -- worth billions. Siemens sells automotive unit for $16 billion. Siemens received a light sanction from German authorities and a minuscule €201 million ($284 million) fine for alleged bribery at its telecommunications-equipment unit. A small price to pay for boosting profits.

Of course some of those employees who helped the 'company' claw its way to this pinnacle of profitability are feeling the pinch this year. I am not referring to the alleged company managers who prosecutors believe "funneled money through sham consulting contracts to bribe potential clients." No, I’m referring to the honest, law-abiding, honorable men and women who work for this company every day, trusting that the company they work for is as honorable as they are.

One of the things certain sections of the Siemens empire has cast aside is sharing the wealth with its workers. Bonuses? Ha! "They don't need no stinking bonuses!" Let me mention that these very bonuses were originally used to lure employees to work at Siemens. Merit raises that befit the hard work performed. Ha! Give em just enough to quiet any 'no raise' rumors. Of course the bonus snafu isn't without precedent. Ask Chinese workers in Beijing.

In comparison, check out the managing board's remuneration. For the managing board members a delightful formula is set in place so that none of these bad boys will go hungry.

Does Siemens value diligence, hard work, honorable responsible input? It looks doubtful. Do they value efforts and fights, fought to keep the company from adopting ideas that are illegal and would results in millions of dollars in fines? They can't seem to remember anything about that.

How about the necessary minutia that gets done without hassle? How about the well oiled machinery that keeps humming along no matter how many logs middle management throws in to disrupt that productivity?

How about something as simple as a workplace that is neither too hot nor too cold? What about keeping the cockroaches out of the bathrooms? Asking too much? Evidently.

Employees already stressed after relocating away from family and roots, stretching income to cover living expenses and that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride called housing costs, also face higher medical expenses. Didn’t you hear? Siemens is changing the medical plan AGAIN -- it will cost the employee more money for less coverage.

But these are only human workers -- fellow humans -- who evidently don't deserve to be recognized, rewarded or even paid a competitive wage. No need to concern yourself about employees set adrift without medical benefits when the company has finished with them -- the other benefits far outshine those offered in sweatshops in Bangladesh. Oh and for new employees, don't even think about a pension plan, you can pay for that out of those bonuses they promised you as incentive to work for this company.

Yet, the steady paycheck even without job security, should count for something. Many workers seek jobs and can't find them. At least Siemens continues to provide employment. Should a worker be jerked around, promised something in the bold print, then see it rescinded in the fine print? Maybe that is the cost of having a job.

At least Henry Ford realized the need to pay his workers a good wage so that they could also be consumers and purchase the products they produced. But then Siemens products are not tailored to the average man. So who cares if employees are sharing their wealth. Oh wait, employees might be interested in the electronics, housewares, appliances, or hearing aids. Let's not get too carried away -- there are employee discounts. That should offset any bonus or raise an employee expected to use to pay the mortgage or the kid's dental costs, except it is only useful if you are buy Siemens products.

Have you heard? This is Siemens best year ever. But don't ask for details from the employees. Some of them are still trying to recover from the end of the year 'merit increase' and 'bonus' slap in the face that Siemens just delivered to them. They can't turn the other cheek -- both are pretty raw from this double whammy.

Makes me want to watch the movie (1989) Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase. Remember the soliloquy against his boss substituting jelly of the month club for the annual bonus of which the employees had become dependent? I wonder if this movie could be mandatory training for those profit mongering mid-managers?

Have you heard? Siemens profits are up, up, up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Birthing a book

The joy of bringing a new book into the world sets my blood swirling and my lips spreading into a big old grin. I love being privy to the back story, to the formation, to the creator's frustrations and triumphs when writing a book. I've been allowed to view this grand event several times and each time I get giddy with joy at their triumph. The fact that I may have contributed in some small way makes me content that I've not lived this life in vain.

Once again I've been watching a gifted writer put his words together into a new book. Today I read a piece he's compiling from his memoir to offer to literary magazines. He has the heart of a poet with a touch of bawdy humor here and there. My kind of writing.

And yet, the subject of his memoir, it could be so maudlin and oh woe is me or he could bluster his way through and say 'it ain't so tough.' But he does none of those things, he gives the reader total honesty. Sometimes more than perhaps you'd want because the subject does make us face our own mortality. The author was stricken with polio at the peak of his young life, as he was stepping from childhood sandals into adult dancing shoes. Well, he could say it better. But by the age of 20 he had spent time in an iron lung, gave up his hard fought, almost achieved independence, and became totally dependent, even more so than old Blanche Duboise, on the kindness of strangers. His memoir takes us into a world where he travels by wheelchair 'boob high' to the world. I think that should be his title, by the way.

He's been struggling with rewrites for the past few months. Next he will face marketing and book signings and all of the things in between that writers rarely think of when trying to get one book sold. I hope he sells tons of books, makes the best seller's list, and sits down to write several more books. He is a voice that will add greatly to those already shouting from the bookshelves.

Watch for the name: Gary Presley. He has several items available to read online, his website and his blog site and his offerings to the Internet Writing Workshop blog as well as their book review site. Here are a few urls to consider:

Gary isn't my first encounter up close and personal with the pains of birthing a book. I worked for a year with Peggy Vincent as she labored over her memoir Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife. Another voice that needs to be heard. And her sense of humor. I snorted my way through that book. Spit coffee on my keyboard, laughed out loud and scared the cat. And then so poignant. A life well lived. But oh, the book she could write NOW about the life she's living AFTER Baby Catcher.

And Linda Swink, a dear friend, and lifelong member of Toastmaster's and the book "Speak With Power and Grace" that she wrote about public speaking. One of the best and most helpful books I've read on the subject. It would have been longer, but she allowed me to do a bit of editing for her. "She's currently finishing up a much needed reference on men who have had a military installation named in their honor, titled Lest We Forget: The Naming of Our Military Installations." It should be published in 2008. The heroes she uncovered in her research -- it is a litany of bravery that has for the most part been long forgotten. A must read even if you aren't into military history and research.

I've reviewed a number of books through the years for various venues from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus to Crescent Blues E'magazine and Gumshoe Review. I like to think that my reviews may have contributed a bit to the authors successes. Well, there might have been a few that I might have been a bit detrimental.... But several quote my reviews on their websites and on the back cover of their books -- those help me feel, again, as if I'm contributing something good and worthwhile.

And maybe, just maybe, after having reached my Nanowrimo goal ahead of schedule, maybe someday I'll get to go through this process with my own book. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Obsessing over Outlander

I have taken the next step toward total obsession and joined a 'discussion' group of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series.

Bandied about among the 'ladies' of the list are names for possible actors to play the male protagonist of the series: Jamie Frazer. Val Kilmer someone said. Noooo. I couldn't see it. I could see him as a member of the Doors, but not as Jamie Frazer, Scottish Highlander.

Then I heard the name Gerard Butler.

Who the heck is that? What has he done? Well at the time of the writing of this blog I only know that his face has been set to a lot of tunes and turned into videos on YouTube. One in particular is a fascinating video of Mr. Butler trying out for the part of Jamie Frazer. I understand he is Diana Gabaldon's first pick (thus far).

After watching the video a couple of times, I'm also captivated by the woman appearing with him. But I don't know her name.

The idea of this fantasy figure being played by a mere man and having to put his face to what I have up until now only imagined -- I resisted the idea. Said I didn't believe the series should be made into a movie.

And yet, having seen Mr. Butler, perhaps the idea of a movie with him as Jamie Fraser has certain merit.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chunky may be healthy

My family has known for generations that a little insulation against the cold and lean times is a good thing.

My 92 year old grandmother knew it, my 96 year old mother knew it and they didn't worry (much) about the extra pounds. They might have worried more about the extra inches or misplaced fat supplies that looked more like angel wings, thunder things, or padunkadunk butt. Don't you love that word? Padunkadunk?

The women in my family were expert pie bakers, fried and cooked with butter, lard, and bacon fat, and savored and enjoyed every bite of food. They equated love with food. They cooked for their families because they loved them. They spent extra hours in the kitchen because food was a gift of the heart.

Cooking was an art and they exchanged recipes and shared tips and then there were the few dishes they excelled in and neither shared tips nor recipes. But it was a friendly rivalry and usually after the cook passed away, an offspring would share the recipe, maybe.

For several years doctors have disagreed with Grandma. They said that food hurts the heart, or rather the extra pounds that come from Grandma's pound cake, pies and fritters cause diabetes, kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes....

Other diseases have been equated to obesity including Alzheimer's Disease, pancreatic and colon cancer and breast cancer.

But today I read that an extra 22 pounds can be healthy. Finally vindication for Grandma from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Researchers found Americans who are overweight are less likely to die of heart disease and cancers - including those commonly associated with excess weight, such as breast, kidney, pancreatic and colon cancer."

The timing of the release of this study is perfect. We can sit down at Thanksgiving dinner, eat a little more potatoes and gravy, an extra serving of cranberry salad, maybe even a thicker slice of pumpkin pie and know that we're making a healthy choice, although perhaps more fresh veggies, salad and green bean casserole might make us feel better at the end of the day.

Yet, the feeling of well being that comes from a full tummy and sharing a gift of food certainly gives us something to be thankful for.

Have you finalized your Thanksgiving plans? After this report's release, you may need to prepare a bit more food.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Novel writing in November

Chris Baty and twenty friends from the San Francisco Bay area had an idea that would help them write their novels and actually enjoy the process. They set a month aside to write their novels. Just write, no editing, no worry about content so much as number of words. 50,000 words in 30 days became the mantra and the goal.

That was in 1999. Today on the first day of nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month -- 139,000 visits were logged on to the site.

The popularity of this project has risen exponentially with each successive year. The first year, July, 1999, 21 people gathered in the San Francisco Bay area and competed. Year two saw an increase to 140 participants, a world wide web site and the need for rules and regulations. The competition was moved to November to best use the crappy weather situation in San Francisco. If there really is crappy weather in SF? Chris Baty, nanowrimo originator, expected 150 people the next year, but 5,000 showed up. At the end of this hellish year for the site managers, Baty requested some contributions.

Here's what he wrote about that experience.

This was the start of my education in running an event without a mandatory entry fee. The biggest lesson of which is this: When you make contributions voluntary, very few people volunteer to contribute. No matter how great a time they had or how much they believe in your cause, 90% of participants just won't find their way to clicking on the PayPal link or mailing in a couple dollars.

The karmic repercussions of it all were mind-boggling to me. Who were these monsters? I'd spent the last month staying up till 3 am every night patiently answering emails, offering encouragement, and giving up every ounce of love and support that the Red Bull hadn't leached from my body. And when I asked for one dollar in return, they turned a cold shoulder? Was this the definition of community?

I spent a week or so frozen in that bitter, martyred pose until a public radio fundraising drive brought me out of it. The baritone-voiced radio announcer was trying to interest me in yet another Newsweek-filled pledge package, and I was looking around to find something to throw at the stereo. Which was when I realized what was happening.

My god, I thought. I suckle at the teat of public radio all year, and I have never once sent them a dime. Never. And how often had I ever given anything to charities or organizations I believed in?

By 2002, nanowrimo had a fully automated site and Chris and cohorts no longer pulled all nighters trying to keep up. The cult of nanowrimo lasts all year and there are regional groups and activities organized to maintain interest in the project.

One of the early years, I logged on and quickly fell behind in the project, never reaching the 50,000 word goal. Today I seem to be more driven to finish at least one book before I die. Having lived past the half century mark, thoughts of death have surpassed thoughts of liposuction. I'm beginning to feel comfortable with love handles and thunder thighs. But still, I want to finish that novel.

So I'm signed up once again for the 50,000 words in 30 days goal. I'm happy to say I have surpassed the 1/5th mark and am headed around the bend toward 20,000 words -- all on the same topic so it is conceivable that these words could be formed into a reasonable facsimile of a novel. I hope, I hope.

And I owe it to Diana Gabaldon who intrigues me with her writing and the faceless daisypappa person on nanowrimo's historic fiction forum who put it all in perspective with her comment:
I think you're being too hard on yourself. Holding up Gabaldon as the standard is just too much pressure. Write from your heart.
So to all of the nanowrimo contestants I wish a hearty GOOOD LUCK! Keep writing. You can do it. And to Chris Baty. Just look what you've started! Congratulations. But Chris, did you ever write or publish your novel?

Monday, October 29, 2007

What was Descartes thinking?

Cogito ergo sum. "I think therefore I am," so says Descartes.

'Thinkers' conclude that this little sentence separates humans from animals. It has to do with problem solving. But my cat thinks and he certainly solves problems.

He thinks about how to keep his litter box clean. Then he proceeds to clean up after our two other felines, scratching and covering, smoothing and mounding, until odor is gone, all is neatly covered, and the problem is solved. He has mastered the art of stealing my ink pens and hiding them under the rug. He even takes joy in watching my husband step on said hidden ink pens in his bare feet and then yelling and hobbling around like some one-legged wildebeest. (Yes, I believe cats also have a sense of humor.)

My cat also thinks about thumping me on the head with his paw in the middle of the night so that I will wake up and scratch his itch. In that respect, he has me totally trained. Thump, scratch. Thump, scratch.

He thinks about catching bugs and lizards. I think that makes him as much of a thinker as many humans I know. The one aspect of life he seems to constantly bump up against and hasn't mastered is gravity. But, like all cats I've known, even fighting against gravity -- he lands on his feet.

Most humans can't do that.

So what is it about problem solving and thinking that makes humans feel elevated above other species? I pondered this and realized that it is the unrelated elements that come together into a new thought that might be the dividing point between species.

And, I believe that women have conquered that Everest, while men are still at base camp. Men even admit that they can't figure out how women think. And have you noticed that most of the scientific data has been gathered on MALE subjects? Descartes should have listened more to his wife. He would have seen real problem solving in action.

What sent me onto this topic was an obsession of mine: Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series. Now bear with me. Diana has come up with a name for her newest book in that series. So far the names are: Outlander (duh), Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes. All wonderful titles of which I do not know the thought process nor the origins. But the next book's title, that one I have seen explained in her email to the CompuServe book group. It beautifully reveals her thought process.

In a nutshell, she and hubby are sandwiched together on a plane flying to a book-related engagement in Alaska. Gabaldon writes, "I was thinking about the shape of the book (of which I have a vague approximation, but not firm at all, yet), and generally considering it in abstract visual terms (i.e., not 'visual' as in thinking of incidents....but rather the pattern that emerges from them)."

You can see why her books are a gazillion pages long -- her emails are not word thrifty and obviously her thoughts aren't either.

Anyway, she sees pebbles dropped into water forming ripples. (If you read her books, this actually makes sense.)

Ripples which rhyme with nipples doesn't seem like a title of choice and pebble might bring the similar ripple, nipple concept to mind. So she keeps thinking of ripples, which she admits makes her think of lakes, which leads to water which leads to waves.

Which makes her think of Loch Ness and standing waves, which she explains is "one suggestion as to the origin of the Loch Ness monster; i.e., that people saw a standing wave--which occur frequently in the loch--and assumed it to be the back of a sea monster."

She, bless her heart, even includes a definition of standing wave: "A type of wave in which the surface oscillates vertically between fixed nodes, without any forward progression; the crest at one moment becomes the trough at the next. Standing waves may be caused by the meeting of two similar wave groups that are traveling in opposing directions."

Running the idea of 'Standing Waves" past her dear husband, his response was to hold his nose. So she continued her musings. Reverting back to ripples and waves, she investigates various wave forms and arrived at 'echo.'

Which, according to describes echo as:
    1. the repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface
    2. a sound so produced

    1. any repetition or imitation of the words, style, ideas, etc. of another
    2. a person who thus repeats or imitates
  1. sympathetic response
  2. Electronics a radar wave reflected from an object, appearing as a spot of light on a radarscope
  3. Gr. Myth. a nymph who, because of her unreturned love for Narcissus, pines away until only her voice remains
  4. Music
    1. a soft repetition of a phrase
    2. an organ stop for producing the effect of echo
  5. Radio, TV the reception of two similar and almost simultaneous signals because one of them has been delayed slightly by reflection from the E layer in transmission

"Well, all _righty_, then," she thought. "Echo is a much more evocative word than 'ripple,' and has multiple related definitions, virtually all of which might apply to the metaphorical levels of this book. Cool. I like 'echo.'"

I freely admit here that I probably would have stopped my own problem solving at ripples. Who cares if it reminds anyone of nipples....

Over the course of several days the author mulled over the title concept, drew on some of her own writings and came up with "Echo in the Flesh."

Her dear husband thought that sounded "butcherous" so she switched to "Echo in the Blood" which sounded more like a crime novel. She sorted around for body parts and came up with bone which, with the help of a well placed preposition became "An Echo in the Bone."

The repetition of the "O" sound in Echo and Bone was pleasing and mimics the U in Drums of Autumn vowel repetition. After trying it out on agent, editors, and a couple rooms full of people, she decided she had her title.

I don't think my cat could have done this, but he might have thumped me on the head until he got me to do it.

I wonder if Gabaldon has a cat.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The anatomy of laughter

While I write this, my husband sits in the adjacent room breathing hard and stimulating his zygomatic major muscle. No silly, he's not doing THAT, he's watching "Evan Almighty" and laughing his head off.

Until this evening, I, a surprising un-curious writer, hadn't thought about the 'act' of laughing. According to "How Stuff Works"

Laughter is the physiological response to humor. Laughter consists of two parts -- a set of gestures and the production of a sound. When we laugh, the brain pressures us to conduct both those activities simultaneously. When we laugh heartily, changes occur in many parts of the body, even the arm, leg and trunk muscles.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes laughter as: "rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions." I think it is much easier to do it, than describe it.

The first laugh may have been in response to the passing of danger. A couple of cave men staring up at the gruesome teeth of some hungry dinosaur and then run like hell for their lives. They meet up in a cave, look at each other and in relief, they vocalize, breathe deeply and out it comes. The world's first human laugh. Of course hyenas and most animals have been enjoying a good joke since the first moment they saw that relatively hairless wonder called: Man.

One of my favorite songs not only tells about laughing, but makes those hearing it want to laugh. The whole movie is wonderfully laugh-riddled: Mary Poppins.


Of course the cause of laughter is subjective. My husband loves Mary Poppins, The Three Stoodges, that Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" and any visual prat fall. I don't usually share his choices. But I adore a good joke, especially a woman's insider perspective on men, males, husbands and boyfriends as well as those insider jokes shared by the 'sisterhood.' I like jokes with a touch of truth and irony and allows me to just be me:
Martha's Way: Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar cone to prevent ice cream drips.
My Way: Just suck the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone, for Pete's sake. You are probably lying on the couch with your feet up anyway.
But then, I can see the humor in "Who's on first...." or

The Anatomy of Humor 6: "A guy walks into a bar . . ."


No one knows when the first joke beginning with the six words "A guy walks into a bar . . ." was told, or how it went. Nevertheless, an entire genre of jokes has been created revolving around that opening scenario. Here's a sampling of some of the variants that have sprung up, many now involving animals or inanimate objects:

A guy walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says, "A beer please, and one for the road."

An amnesiac walks into a bar and asks the bartender, "Do I come here often?"

A guy with dyslexia walks into a bra.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

War -- What is it good for?

It is decades and yet just a moment since the summer of 1968. Young men I had sat beside in high school classerooms, had watched them throw spit balls or carve their names in the wooden study hall desks or catch a football out on the field of play -- they were dying, or being wounded, in Vietnam. I sat quietly and said nothing.

Against the war? Oh yes, I was totally against the war. Just hearing the anti-war songs again brought it all back. Every element of it. The letters from my fiance who volunteered to fight in Vietnam -- he thought it was brave. I thought him a coward for not standing up against a war. I was the coward. I kept silent and watched the list grow. The names of the dead: John Hale, Dave Cox, Neil Mason, the list so long, all killed. They fought bravely, they faced whatever was thrown at them. Today's soldiers do no less. They are brave and take duty seriously. Our leaders have no sense of duty. They put this brave band of brothers and sisters into harms way for ill-thought out goals.

Silently I watched others return wounded in mind and body. Stood silent as I watched their lives fall apart through the ensuing years because they were stuck in that awful jungle battlefield. We offer so little in return for their lives. Walter Reed Hospital reflects our lack of respect.

Today I speak out through the words of this video. Not my creative construction -- but if I could be so creative this is what I would have wanted to make. The sounds may reflect back to a Vietnam era of protest -- but the pictures clearly show that war is no good -- not yesterday nor today.

Some things we MUST fight for. To protest the war in Iraq is to fight for integrity, humanity. And in the protest of this war, in trying to find global agreement rather than discord, hopefully, America can find its moral compass.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Of Gardens, Gore and Good Ideas

He won! Was there any doubt that he would? Al Gore of course. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007! But then many of us thought he would win eight years ago. Perhaps this 'win' is for the greater good. Still, part of me wonders where we would be right now if he had been named president....but I can't dwell on that. What I can dwell on is his Current TV and some of the videos and information coming out of that project. Such as this exciting one featuring an ecovillage in Tennessee! Gardeners take note, some of these things we can try in our own little back yards.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Robert Frost, earthworms and childhood

I learned today that earthworms only have a few thousand brain cells, and according to Douglas Hofstadter in his book Godel, Escher, Bach, every earthworm brain is like every other earthworm brain. I guess if you've seen one earthworm, you've seen them all.

Each mammal, each human is one-of-a-kind. Our brains basically come from the same mold, but Hofstadter assures us each brain has evolved into something unique. The scary part, I think, comes when psychologists discuss the architecture of these unique brains. Most of the building apparently takes place within the FIRST TWO YEARS OF LIFE. According to Norman N. Holland's book "Robert Frost's Brain":

The child's brain develops virtually all its potentially useful neural interconnections by the age of two, and then goes on to develop a lot more. The brains of children from three to eleven use twice as much energy as adults' brains. Specifically, in the first year of life, the metabolic rate of the baby's brain (established by PET scan) is about two-thirds that of an adult brain. By the age of two, the rate equals the adult's. During those two years, the neurons have been branching and interconnecting. Indeed, during the first year of life, "dendritic and synaptic elaboration" increases by a factor of 20. Then, by three or four, the metabolic rate becomes twice that of an adult's. By the age of six or seven, a child's brain equals in weight and volume an adult's, but it uses twice as much energy, and it has twice the number of synaptic connections. The brain stays "super- charged" until early adolescence. Then, from eleven to fourteen, the metabolic rate begins to fall until it subsides to the adult level. Similarly, there are twice as many synaptic connections in the cortex of a child's brain as in an adult's. Then that number falls by half in early adolescence. Young children experience twice as much deep sleep as adults, and then from eleven to fourteen years of age, children move into adult sleep patterns.

With all of this energy and growth, it rather explains why childhood plays such a major part in making us who we are. The experiences of childhood stay with us forever and show up in unexpected places.

For example Holland discovers a childhood moment in one of Robert Frost's poems.
Once by the Pacific
The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken.

It appears to be a description of storm, yet the simple word usage suggests a child's view of this event. Frost remembers in his memoirs the moment that prompted this poem, yet doesn't elaborate on what all was going on. According to Holland this has more to do with human sexuality, parents, abandonment than with an ocean storm. For more of his critique, please visit UCF's online copy of "Robert Frost's Brain", page 16.

As a mother, I belatedly realize how vital those first few years of life were for my sons. In hindsight would I do things differently? I would hope so. But maybe this little blog can motivate parents to take more seriously the childhood experiences they offer their children, the environment in which they raise their children, the amount of time their child feels 'abandoned' such as Frost felt in this poem, and the number of times they hug their babies and introduce them to something new.

I've long wondered why we decorate nurseries with baby stuff instead of what we hope will interest and mold our children. Frank Lloyd Wright's mother filled his nursery with great architecture -- is it a fluke that he became one of America's best known architects?

Why do we dumb down the way we talk to our children, the books we read to them, the explanations we give them? Maybe with higher expectations, a broader spectrum of information and opportunities, we will help our children expand their little neurons.

If I had my babies back today, I would read to them of their world. Books about the solar system, color, sound, the golden Phi, snowflake architecture and the history of man. I would spend lest time reading of giant jam sandwiches and dirty dogs and steam shovels. Although, I enjoyed those books as much as they did. I still do. I wonder what that says about my childhood.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Where's Your Bookmark?

It's a frequently asked question on the DorothyL list. "Where's Your Bookmark?" This group brought together by mystery -- writing that is. Booklovers, authors, readers, reviewers, we all like to talk books, primarily mystery books. Seems like in most books, there is an element of mystery, even in the badly written ones -- the mystery there is how did they ever get published? It is a great place to chat with your favorite mystery authors, too.

The latest mystery I read was by Judy Clemens "The Day Will Come" and the review, if you're interested, is in the November issues of Mystery Scene Magazine. I've also read a few non-mystery genres. A nonfiction that's been out for a few years written by Erik Larson: "The Devil in the White City."

And in the spirit of working toward writing and publishing my own novel, I am reading everything I can get my hands on about the Gilded Age, thinking that might make a great time to set a book that I could actually write. I'm no Diana Gabaldon, though. Where she can find pages and pages of information to impart, I can only eek out a couple of sentences, so I need to fill my reservoir of facts while putting pen to paper.

Not surprising perhaps, my bookmark is back in "The Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. The fact that I am rereading a book, especially rereading it within the same year, within six months of having read it the first time, is extraordinary. There are so many books and so little time that rereading something just seems sacrilegious.

But I am so drawn to her characters, setting, storytelling. I began reading with the intent to study her methods, figure out her style, hunt down the clues that make her writing so addictive, I mean, delightful. I'm a writer hoping, praying, wishing and actually working toward publishing my own novel, so I thought it wise to study an author whose work makes me green with envy. I mean whose work I respect.

Wikipedia says this about Gabaldon: Diana Jean Gabaldon Watkins (b. January 11, 1952 in Arizona) is an American author of Mexican-American and English ancestry. Diana Gabaldon is her maiden name, and the one she uses professionally. Her books are difficult to classify by genre, since they contain elements of romantic fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction (in the form of time travel). Her books have so far been sold in 23 countries, and translated into 19 languages besides English.

Yep, that's who I want to be when I grow up!

I managed to get through the first sentence of "Outlander" with an eye toward technique. "Good hook," I mumbled. She set up the coming pages, the coming chapters with one sentence: "It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance."

Rereading it here, I see that it could be leaner, tighter, more active. Maybe "Looking around, who would have believed this a good place to disappear?" Begin with a question that she will answer. But, that first sentence is about all I remember as far as style or technique or how she fills those pages. Instead, I stepped through the pages and did a little time travel of my own right into the midst of her book. She brought me there at the speed of thought.

How does she do that?

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Genuine Original

The Internet feeds my need for information. Like that robot on the movie Short Circuit, I need more input. Today while roaming around cyberspace seeking facts and anecdotes about the Gilded Age, I met Kate Carew.

It was a bittersweet meeting. Kate's career title is caricaturist. She has the enviable job of interviewing famous movers and shakers and drawing caricatures to run with her stories in the New York World. Well, that was her job back in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The bitter part of the meeting is that Kate died in the 1960s and I will never get to meet her. Her observant, energetic, skilled interviews will not include any new assignments. I wonder what she would have made of George Bush or Princess Diana or Yo Yo Ma. We'll never know. We'll never see her drawings that capture the attributes a person can not fake. She certainly had an eye and an ear for human nature. Her own caricature included here of 'Kate herself' tells us much about this feisty professional reporter.

But the Internet does include a few of her earlier interviews and that is sweet. I get to sit beside her as she interviews Wilbur and Orville Wright, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Picasso....

Kate's true name was Mary Williams and she was born in 1869 in Oakland, Calif. She traveled the world, settled in New York for a time and returned to California to die in 1960. Along the way she wrote with a freedom and unaffected style that I can only wish for.

For example she wrote in one column:

Knowing nothing of politics and caring less, I had the proverbial luck of the beginner at cards.

The Governor of the State of New York waxed confidential with me at a time of great political excitement arising from his having apparently overthrown and usurped the power of the "Boss" of his party, and I treasure a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a handsome ring sent to me with a letter of commendation by Mr. Pulitzer, the unseen but very-much-felt power behind his great newspaper.

She's a more genteel Dorothy Parker, a fresh voice for a transitional time when Americans were shedding their awe of Europe and finding their own technology. A time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor was widening at an alarming rate. A time when women were fighting for their right to vote and getting rid of corsets and letting machines do the housework and searching for ways to limit family size. And Carew was there to find the humanity in each person she interviewed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just....

In my little hometown, population maybe 500, vandals defaced the Civil War statue in the center of town -- again. A group of residents pooled resources and had it cleaned. It was defaced again, a few days before Memorial Day. This dedicated group were able to get the statue cleaned for the holiday events that would take place at its base. And then something mysterious happened.

A guard appeared at the side of this statue. I mean a military figure in full uniform stood at attention for hours and hours, days on end. He was the unknown soldier. He would not talk while on duty. No one knew his name. He was simply a veteran who knew what that statue really stood for. He understood blood, fear, putting life on the line and facing a job from which many of his friends did not survive. He understands patriotism and duty and symbolism. He fights his own demons every day -- as every warrior must do. Some win that demonic battle, some don't. Some quietly opt out of the mainstream population and slip into homelessness.

Statistics show that on any given night about 200,000 United States veterans are homeless and living on the streets of this mighty country they vowed to defend. More than 400,000 experience homelessness sometime during each year.
Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. -- NCHV
These figures come from the Veterans Administration via the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website. And according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, those numbers are growing. Soldiers coming back from Iraq, some are living on the street. How can that be? Another article cites domestic disputes as the reason more Iraq war veterans are on the streets than even Vietnam veterans. The photo above runs with that article.

These warriors who had the courage to face an armed enemy, put their bodies in harm's way. Do what is required of them. Even if the war is a farce, the bullets are real. But they return home and can't deal with day to day life once they return to civilian status? Why are they homeless?
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
The VA system is responsible of course to help these veterans. But much of what they provide is tied to local or community organizations. In Florida property taxes have been cut -- most people received a $100 reduction in their tax bill. County coffers have lost, just in my county, approximately $68 million dollars. That means that local and community organizations that provide the kinds of services necessary to help veterans find a home and live more productive, self-sufficient lives, are cut or ended. Throughout the U.S. need outstrips help available.

The U.S. Labor Department funds a program Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program. Veterans helping veterans seem to be the most effective organizations. But they all need our help.

Since the Civil War, we've mistreated our veterans. The GI Bill took a stab at compensating them for the losses they sustained defending their country, but that bill has been gouged and vandalized by our government. Remember the Walter Reed Hospital images on television of the kind of environment wounded GIs were dumped into?

The army of homeless veterans is just one symptom of a failing society. In addition to homeless veterans, we have had multiple eye-opening glimpses at stifling free speech just this week. Memos to stifle peaceful protesters and keep them from appearing on camera at rallies for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Sally Fields and other celebrity voices were censored during the recent Emmy Awards program on Fox Television Network.

Haven't you felt it for the last six years? A fear? A fear of saying what you think or of disagreeing with our government. Activists may be the new heroes of our country. They alone are standing up for all of our rights, including those homeless veterans. Standing up against our own government that has a concerted effort to silence them.

I say 'them,' because I have not picketed, carried a sign, or stood up for anything. All I've done is feel the fear. With the divide growing between have and have not. Raising home prices, elite gated communities, mortgage lenders taking advantage of the poor or uninformed. Insurance companies failing to pay or canceling policies that are not lucrative. More and more without health insurance and medical costs forcing families into bankruptcy. All of these problems come together to make more of us face homelessness. I guess when that day comes, we'll get a better understanding of the homeless veteran's situation.

Homeless veterans, all homeless are invisible in plain sight. What's that old adage about old soldiers? Old soldiers never die, they just fade away -- in plain sight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Counting the days till season's end

No, I am not referring to the annual football season. But rather hurricane season.

Until moving to Florida, hurricanes were someone else's problem. But moving down here during the year of the multi-hurricane hits, I quickly set aside a big chunk of time to watch skies and the weather channel. What about that tropical storm developing off of Haiti? We cross our fingers and will the weatherman to tell us that it is NOT heading toward Orlando. The photo shows Hurricane Ivan -- not a picture we like to see on the weather channel. Not, not, not!

I'll be glad to shrug off the storm stress as well as the heat. Both seem to head out to sea together. Cooler temperatures, lower humidity and a gentle breeze all sound wonderful after too many months of sweltering and sweating. My only silver lining is that my skin has never been so frequently exfoliated.

Just because a date comes and goes, that doesn't mean hurricanes can't form at times other than the designated storm season. May through November we consider hurricane season. But once September passes, we begin to breathe more easily again, and in October, we might even skip a weather broadcast now and then. This info about dates and hurricanes is just one of ten myths that appear on Lake Worth's website.

While debunking myths, check out Global Warming Hurricane Myths. And if you're interested in hurricane names, everything you always wanted to know is right here. For the science of hurricanes, visit Howstuffworks.

Now, if there was just as much info available about dealing with humidity and perspiration as there is about hurricanes -- I might find a way to overcome living in a mist, or at least learn to 'enjoy' it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Time, the coin of my realm

Time as well as money always seem to be in short supply in my life. I fear that in both cases the problem lies with me -- I spend both so unwisely. Flitter here, fuss there, waste time thinking about what I should be doing, where I should be going, why I'm not there already.... I am a follower of spontaneous consumption. I see it, I like it, I buy it. The Internet has certainly enabled that little weakness. Usually my husband curbs any spending concerns I might have. But time wasters -- I'm an expert.

I spend too much of my time thinking about what I should or would do. A great example. I have all kinds of fabric and books of patterns and ideas for making quilts. They fill a room in my house. I wander in there, finger the fabric, flip through a book, pick out a few that would be fun to make and think, "later."

My cousin goes to the library, finds a book about quilts that fascinates her and fits into her other interests of paper cutting and family history. She brings the book home and immediately begins constructing a quilt. What a great investment compared to me.

My money investments seem to run along the same lines. Perhaps I would have purchased some of that Apple and Yahoo stock way back when, if I hadn't spent so much time thinking about it and then concluded, "Maybe later...."

I'm finding that 'later' never comes.

There's also the fact that others are experts at investing my time and money. Bosses, family members, neighbors, friends, even strangers have an idea of what I should be doing. Telemarketers call with 'just what you need' suggestions and arm twisting. My sons are experts at finding ways to spend my money and know that I thoroughly enjoy spending it on both of them. But, the other day, I found a few lines by Carl Sandburg that reminded me that my money as well as my time are limited, finite, will come to an end one day and I am the only one who should be controlling at least the way my time is spent.
Time is the coin of your life.
It is the only coin you have,
and only you can determine how it will be spent,
Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg

Friday, September 7, 2007

Parking Space Envy

Maybe because I've been caught up in the web of discourtesy lately, I hone in on other discussions on the same topic. But recently several threads have been woven on an online writing forum concerning courtesy.

Most recently a young writer admitted to parking in a space designated for handicapped parking. Her excuse was that the parking lot was small, she had to get her children's school supplies, no one would be parking there because there were other empty handicap spaces, and she had children.

Another member pointed out that 'children are not a handicap.' Well, some of us might make an argument in favor of kids as handicaps, but agreed in principal to her rebuttal.

The reason for the woman's admission of parking in a designated space was to garner feedback on her own meltdown when she came out to find her car towed to a nearby lot by the towing company that resided next door to the store she had just visited. This happened in New York. Evidently it is kosher for private towing firms to police the parking lot and tow anyone breaking the rules. It cost her more than $100 to get her car back, in cash, on the spot. Sounds like extortion. Of course if the police towed my car or gave me a ticket in my little town, the cost would have been at least $250.

Yet, she was a law breaker -- what could she do? Call the police? She paid. But in the process she freaked out, screamed, yelled, cursed, and all in front of her children.

The problem for many of her co-list members and me included, came not in the freak out, not even the fact that she parked where she shouldn't. It was her attitude. Her jealousy over reserved spaces that only people with disabilities are to use. Her list of excuses never ceased, she tried to vindicate herself for parking there. Someone tried to help, likening it to using a stall in the restrooms that are designed for people with handicaps.

No one bought that comparison.

But still this Me-First-Mommy persisted saying 'no handicapped person in their right mind would have gone into that store with the chaos inside' -- evidently several parents and kids were there getting school supplies at tremendous mark-down prices.

But what if that person not only had handicaps, but also had children? She, a writer, a creative person, failed to see people with handicaps as people with responsibilities, children or a life....

When did this world get so me-centric that even the writers and dreamers can't see another person's situation and accommodate their needs as well?

It was encouraging that most of the people chiming in to her little thread seemed to get what this ego-centric mother did not. Yet, how could she not? It must be that adage of walking in another person's shoes.

Just a few weeks with my leg in a cast several years ago cured me of any parking-space envy. I'd much rather have a healthy body and the ability to walk for miles, than the right to park in a handicapped parking space.

I hope she realizes the truth without hobbling in the footsteps, even temporarily, of someone with disabilities.

How would she feel if she had to take her children to get school supplies, but first must find a way to drag herself to the car, then out of the car, into a wheelchair, across the driveway, up the curb, through the doors, down the narrow aisles, avoiding people who treated her as invisible or an impediment to their own destination. What would she have done if her children took off and left her stranded unable to find her babies, follow them, or keep control of them because she had only wheels for legs? Or what if her arms didn't work as well? How would she reach the displays and shelves of products? What if she had to breathe through a tube? What if she couldn't talk? What if she was wracked with pain? What if her bones easily broke....what if other Me-First Mommies simply pushed her out of the way or took her parking space so that in addition to all of this, she must also find a way to get her wheelchair out in a small confined parking space?

And what if she was disfigured and had to fight for her right to be considered human....seems a long way from parking-space envy. I hope she never must make that trip.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Waning Gibbous tugs us toward chaos

Today's moon is a waning gibbous, which means more than half, less than whole. Basically, the moon has a hump back. This may be the cause of the atmosphere of discourtesy and chaos we encountered today at Sam's Club.

The full moon's tug is still strong. That explains a lot. People are known to do weird things while under the effects of a full moon. Or at least that makes a great excuse.

I didn't expect Sam's Club to be a location where people are so vulnerable to the moon's phases. Evidently it is.

People were pushing and shoving. Some stood in the middle of aisles staring at the same frozen fish or unripe mango unable to see the bottle neck they'd created. Cell phones crushed tightly to ears transported people to another time, place and relationship to the detriment of those milling around them. Clerks tapped feet, gritted teeth, and then whirled and stalked away or yelled like a mule skinner trying to get recalcitrant shoppers to form two lines. "There are two lines people, two lines, two lines, two lines...."

My husband, riding a motorized cart, was marooned more than once by people jumping in front of him, driving their carts into his path, or some tried pushing him out of the way. Maybe we didn't get the memo about rescinding the rights of people with disabilities.

I wondered if there might be a natural disaster coming that no one mentioned to us. Each person bent on his own needs, his own path, his own space, his own survival. But, maybe someone should tell the one woman in the milk and egg aisle, that her world will not end if she did not get a gallon of milk precisely when she wanted to get a gallon of milk. I originally wrote 'the lady' -- but had to change that. She was definitely not a lady.

This was Sam's Club, not Hurricane Charlie.

I can't explain why people can't be courteous. Interact with a smile, take a deep breath and stop fighting the fray.

We were exhausted by the time we exited the store. I'm just thankful I don't work there and never need return -- except for the kitty litter. We can't seem to find that brand elsewhere, but maybe we could teach our cats to sit on the toilet and flush. It might be easier than facing that mob again.

Or maybe we'll check the moon phase before heading back. A gibbous moon seems to turn everyone into mannerless boors. Well, not everyone. My husband and I and the guy behind us in the check out line seemed to be resisting its effects.

In total honesty, I felt the moon's pull when the woman pushed me out of the way as she reached for the milk. It was a strong urge to grab the cell phone from her hand, throw it to the ground and stomp it to smithereens. I had a flashback to working at the library, emptying the book drop. A patron drove up in her Lexus, thrust a book in my face while she babbled into a cell phone, then drove off forcing me to leap back so she didn't run over my foot.

I do so hate cell phones and the boors who must babble on them in public places. I think the moon made me say that....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Time for a Prison Break?

Don't we all create our own little prisons that we need to break out of now and then? I certainly do.

In a former life I couldn't say no. That meant anytime someone asked me to do something -- bake cookies for PTA, serve on a committee, take care of their kids, shoulder another project at the office -- I'd smile and cough out, "Yes, of course."

My inability to say no often led me to seek a more hermit like existence, cutting myself off from others who would make demands on me. In essence, creating an even more narrow little jail cell.
These days my prison consists of living my life around work schedules, writing deadlines and the beck and call of loved ones near and far. Illness, aches and pains, demands of the job, chores always needing attention.... I'm afraid I'm the kind of jailbird, that even though the door swings open, I still sit on my little cot behind the bars. It has been so long since I thought about what I wanted to do, I can't consider it any more. Every thought is about 'we'.

Yet, sometimes I have to mentally escape from the realities that surround me.

Lately I've stepped into another world and find myself returning to it, even in the midst of reality. In an earlier post, I mentioned reading the Outlander series. I'm still reading. I can't get enough and yet I worry that I'm running out of books and may soon be forced to return to life without Claire and Jamie, return to the 21st century instead of pre-revolutionary Colonial America.

Without them, I will be forced to concentrate on getting the oil changed in my car, dealing with repairmen, blood tests, trips to the grocery, balancing budgets, cleaning the hot tub, figuring out why our lawn died.

But for now I think of baking bread, chopping wood, clearing fields, snake bite remedies and making a syringe out of a snake fang and some tubing. I think of porcupine quill sewing needles, sitting before a hearth fire with a pot of stew (or laundry) bubbling in a big kettle while knitting stockings for my family.

Perhaps the real thing I embrace about this hard scrabble life is that they can provide for themselves and their loved ones themselves. They make or grow or harvest or invent whatever they need to survive. They have control over this very basic daily life. Of course on the horizon lies war, enemies, disease, death. But then, it is a book, a series. And as long as I know there is another book in the series, I know that Claire and Jamie will continue their lives, survive the hardships, and be free to make the choices that matter to them. No cubicles, no bosses, no timelines or deadlines other than the changing seasons.

I want a life as ordered and reliable as a book with a happy ending. Sometimes, I just need to escape into another world to find it. The best part of escapist reading -- I can always return. Usually I bring a bit of the book back with me. While going about my own list of chores, I recall how the characters coped -- knowing that Jamie could survive the horrors of war, how could I not survive scrubbing showers and toilets and floors?

Funny, too. Although Jamie is this amazing fantasy man -- I see him in my husband. Or perhaps I see my husband in him. While reading about Gabaldon's character, I realize that for almost 36 years, I've been living with a man that many call hero and write books about.

With a refreshed view of my surroundings, I realize that my life, my circumstances are only a prison as long as I view them with the wrong attitude. But in order to find that out -- I must see my life through the pages of a book. Others may find escape in other avenues. But escape we must now and then, just to see more clearly.

P.S. Salon offers an interesting column about the Outlander series and Gabaldon's 'backwards' romance techniques. I highly recommend the series to historic romance lovers, history buffs, mystery buffs, and sci-fi/fantasy audiences. The writing is above the norm, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Life Lists -- Not Just for the Young

Turn 50 and your perspective takes a quick 180.

Suddenly you see how much life is behind you, and how little is before you. Between those two views, the realization hits you that you've been spinning your wheels for the last 30 years.

Younger generations seem to find life lists a way to keep their focus, to make their lives count. According to an article in the New York Times:
"Once the province of bird-watchers, mountain climbers and sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the life list has become widely popular with the harried masses, equal parts motivational self-help and escapist fantasy."
But at 50 or 60 or 70 -- can one really make a life list and it means something?

I say, "Yes!"

At 95, Mom just took her first cruise. Granted it was on Lake St. Marys, but still she is finding new experiences and enjoying each one.

Maybe I can't dance all night, but who knows, maybe I could see Mt. Kilimanjaro before I die.
If that is really something I want to do.

The problem of arrested development, something I seem to suffer from, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. So the list I've been contemplating recently includes things I'd like to do -- again.

1. Lay in the grass on a summer night and stare up into the tree, watching the lightning bugs dance.

2. Feel the wind and spray on my face while racing across the surface of water -- lake, river, ocean -- it doesn't matter. I just want to experience that freedom, that giddy feeling of rushing toward something fun that is a bit unnerving like riding in my uncle's boat.

3. Write an essay that makes me giggle with delight.

4. Talk all night with friends....

Maybe if I revisit a few things, I will find some new items to put on a life list. Regardless of old or new experiences, life should not be wasted. And that means realizing that age has nothing to do with quality of life -- you're never too old to live.

Just ask Mom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Grandma's Sewing Machine

Whether it was nesting instinct, restless boredom, or too much HGTV, I felt the need to rearrange furniture yesterday.

We 'downsized' with our last move, only the house turned out to be smaller and the items we could part with less than we'd hoped. So we have a small house with too much stuff. Periodically I throw something away and reshuffle what is left in hopes that it will fit better.

Yesterday was a reshuffling day.

I tried moving the little love seat in our bedroom closer to the desk. But I liked it centered on the window, so I moved it back. Then I moved the little table that held the computer tower (beside the desk) and returned it to its original intent as a side table by the couch.

Much better.

My husband could just bend down a bit to turn his computer off and on.

The round table that sat beside the bed just wasn't working. It was wobbly at best and the cover I had over it was actually a curtain. So out it went. But what to put in its place?

I almost bumped into my grandmother's old Singer sewing machine as I carried the table out to the dining room where everything I didn't know what to do with landed. My collection of books that had overflowed the five book shelves, the overstuffed chair that I thought I would recover -- and hadn't. And the sewing machine.

We'd adjusted to walking around it. But maybe it could work as a side table in the bedroom. So I wheeled it in and much to my surprise it makes the perfect dressing table. It was intended for someone to sit at it and all of those drawers on either side -- perfect for make up, etc.

I unwrapped a mirror that had remained swaddled in bubble wrap from our move, hidden behind the bedroom door. I propped it atop the sewing machine and it worked. Add my favorite vase of philodendron and Mom's hand mirror, a knit scarf, it looked good.

It didn't hurt that I cleaned up the clutter, dusted and vacuumed, and made the bed.

But I look at that sewing machine that probably hasn't sewn a stitch since Grandma died and wonder. What if I could get it working? What would it be like to sew an heirloom on it? That old treadle sewing machine stitching twenty-first century thread into antique cloth to make something that my Grandmother would have appreciated and that maybe a future generation might treasure.

I've seen a similar machine used. It was in the 1960s, the summer, 4-H sewing projects. My good friend, Regina, sewed her award winning clothes on an old treadle Singer machine. She and her sisters and her mother did all of their sewing on it. Did I mention that there were nine children in that family? I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. All of those sisters and brothers.

And when she came to stay at my house, she thought I lived in heaven. How could I find anything wrong with being the only kid. Not sharing my room with four sisters and my bed with two of them. Meals were another issue for her. She learned to eat fast and had what Mom called a boarding house reach. At our table she couldn't believe that we actually had leftovers and Mom offered her seconds. No one said, "Don't hog it all."

Funny how looking at that sewing machine reminds me of Regina as much or more than it does my grandmother. I never saw Grandma use it, but I had seen Regina pump the treadle and thread the needle.

The thought won't go away.

So maybe if I make an especially good dinner tonight -- I'm thinking roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy and corn on the cob....maybe my husband will tinker a bit and see if it is possible to resurrect the old machine.

It's only been fifty years since it last took a stitch. It would be like living in two worlds, two eras, at the same time, to sit at that machine and sew. What spirits would surround me....