Friday, June 29, 2007


In my previous blog posting, I mentioned jigsaw puzzles. They were popular in our house when I was growing up, and my husband still enjoys them. Although he has to fight off the cats who love to lay on the piece, push them off of the card table where he lays out his puzzles and stretch and roll around on the pieces he fits together until it all comes apart.

Seemed like Mom usually had a puzzle underway when we were still kids at home. I thought my girlfriend's mother was so clever when she glued the puzzles to a board and hung them as wall art.

One of my first Christmas presents was a puzzle of the United States, an example of a dissected map, I later learned. Other than this educational wooden U.S. map, my experience with puzzles have been of the cardboard variety.
It wasn't until I googled the topic that I realized what an interesting history these puzzles have and how many people collect and love them.

Daniel McAdam explained on the American Jigsaw Puzzle Society webpage that, "It is generally agreed the first jigsaw puzzle was produced around 1760 by John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker. Spilsbury mounted one of his maps on a sheet of hardwood and cut around the borders of the countries using a fine-bladed marquetry saw."

According to Anne D. Williams, puzzles became so popular at the turn of the 19th century that Parker Brothers stopped making games and devoted all of their efforts to producing puzzles. But, the real peak of puzzle consumption came during The Great Depression, again, according to Williams.

"With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, puzzles for adults enjoyed
a resurgence of popularity, peaking in early 1933 when sales reached an
astounding 10 million per week. Puzzles seemed to touch a chord, offering an
escape from the troubled times, as well as an opportunity to succeed in a
modest way. Completing a jigsaw gave the puzzler a sense of accomplishment
that was hard to come by when the unemployment rate was climbing above 25
Out of the Great Depression came the Rolls Royce of puzzles, the Par Puzzles . These were uniquely designed with the buyer in mind, sometimes including their names cut into the pieces. Other puzzles featured various recognizable shaped pieces -- dogs, human figures, 4-leaf clovers....

Williams has amassed a collection of more than 8,000 puzzles and has written several books on the subject of jigsaw puzzles. Just this year she was awarded the Spilsbury Award by the Association of Games and Puzzle Collectors.

Puzzles seem an inexpensive item to collect and of course easy to find. And the type of puzzle collection seem endless. Whether choosing the topic featured on the front of the puzzle -- ancient art, light houses, famous faces -- to the materials such as wooden puzzles -- to the manufacturers. And Ms. Williams has put together the history as well as collection information for anyone interested.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Give me the writing life!

Ahhh the writing life. Every day dawns bright with opportunity.

So many of us put our butts in the chairs every day and put words on pages. Sometimes the words get along, sometimes they sing. Sometimes they fight like bullies on a playground. Other times they just simply refuse to cooperate. Sullen and unresponsive they sit like lumps of spitballs stuck on a blackboard and dare me to find a way to make them turn into something significant.

Usually I click delete and close the document. I know when I'm beat. Words, my toughest opponents, roughest coworkers ever my pleasure to work with.

Non-writers think writers are solitary figures, working alone with our thoughts. Instead we have all of the words in the world whirling around us, daring us to catch them out of the air and confine them to a page, to a paragraph, to a sentence. "Put me into something original. I dare you," they smirk. They pound their little alpha-chests and scoff, "Who do you think you are to try and wrangle me?"

But when they cooperate, ahhh. When they embrace their fellow words, sing a little Kum-ba-ya, and gather around the campfire of an essay, imparting their wisdom, their inspiration, their treasure.... Oh what beautiful music to their creator.

Today was a day of rejection. An essay I poured my heart into didn't work for an editor. It happens. It happens alot. After all of these years, rejection is a shrug of the shoulders, an "oh well," and acceptance that I won't be buying that exquisite $5,000 sewing machine I fantasize about. I probably won't be ordering much pizza or take-out and I'll probably be refreshing my taste buds with peanut butter sandwiches instead of steak. But I will be writing. And I will be thinking about that essay. I'll either be figuring out what didn't work or think of a market that will appreciate it, or maybe some of both.

The week hasn't been all rejection. Christian Science Monitor accepted another essay, another of my favorite word songs.

My first acceptance -- 1981 -- Bluegrass Unlimited -- a terrible, horrible article about the Blanchard Valley Bluegrass Boys. I put everything in that article including the kitchen sink. When the check arrived I screamed, I cried, I danced on the bed of my sleeping husband. He worked nights and wasn't quite as thrilled at a check for $126 as I was.

But of course all writers know that it wasn't about $126. It was about validation. About succeeding at something so elusive, something as fragile as butterfly wings. Something I wanted so badly I still get tears thinking about that break-through moment.

I don't get quite as worked up with each acceptance these days. Yet, seeing my work in print, makes me smile. It is a smile that goes right to my soul.

So tomorrow I'll be back fitting words together and hoping to come up with a lovely picture -- like those thousand piece jigsaw puzzles my husband loves to slave over and our cat enjoys sleeping on. Will my picture be of cute kittens? A lovely landscape? A lighthouse? My mother's hands?

Ahhhh, the opportunities are endless.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 27th's History

This looks like a good year for Cancerians. At least that's what I gathered from Cafe Astrology's 2007 Horoscope for those born under the sign of Cancer: June 22 - July 22.

It's the year to amass financial gains, put daily affairs in order, and meet new friends. "You have a twinkle in your eye this year," says Cafe Astrology. Are you reading this Nick? (He's my favorite Cancerian.)

This date in history offers a diverse list of good and horrible events. The site Important Dates in History begins their information with the first women's magazine, The Ladies Mercury, published in London: 1693.

This is also the date when:

1922: The Newberry Medal was first presented. Hendrik van Loon,
recipient for his children's book The Story of Mankind. "Hendrik Willem van Loon's ability to convey history as a fascinating tale of adventure has endeared this book to countless readers and has attained it a unique place in publishing history." -- book description on Amazon.

1929: The first color television demonstration. Herbert E. Ives demonstrated a mechanical color TV system of 50-lines from AT&T in NY to Washington DC.
1934: Federal Savings and Loan Association created.
1950: President Truman ordered the Air Force and Navy into the Korean Conflict.
That same year the U.S. sends 35 military advisers to Vietnam. Humor
lists celebrities born on this date, including 1927, Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan); actor Tobey McGuire (1975) and Julia Duffy (1951). Ernest Borgnine married Ethel Merman on this date in 1964 -- the marriage lasted 38 days.

James Smithson died on this day in 1829, leaving behind a curious bequest based upon the death of his only heir. When his heir did die, the U.S. received his whole estate which went to establishing The Smithsonian Institute, just as Mr. Smithson requested.

And on this day in 1939, one of the most important scenes in American film history was shot: "Frankly Scarlett, I don't give a damn." According to historians "Director Victor Fleming also shot the scene from Gone With the Wind using the alternate line, 'Frankly, my dear, I just don't care,' in case the film censors objected to the word 'damn.' The censors approved the movie but fined producer David O. Selznick $5,000 for including the curse."

Hopefully like Victor Fleming or Mr. Smithson or Hendrik van Loon, we'll create a little history, positive history, today. Something to better mankind and ourselves -- or at least something entertaining.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It Isn't Easy Being Green

Green seems to be the color of choice this week.

Green stands for growing and green for environmentally responsible residents of Earth. Like Kermit T. Frog, the feeling of wannabe greenies is, "It isn't easy being green." But perhaps with discussion and exchange of ideas, a bit of determination and imagination, green may grow on us -- and I don't mean moss.

Some areas where I encountered green seemed to all meet at the Internet Writing Workshop.

The Creative Nonfiction Discussion Group are discussing the essay by Deborah Halter: The Joys of Walking vs. the Need for Speed that appeared in the June 22nd issue of National Catholic Reporter. Sadly the essay availability only extends to subscribers of NCR, but the gist of it involves her efforts to walk more and drive less. Like many of us, the author enjoys the driving, the quick results of driving to a destination as opposed to time-eating walks. And like many of us, a walk can not just be a walk, it must involve a destination, be useful, be work, or utilitarian.

I particularly liked this statement:

The first thing I learned was that when we drive, we miss many of the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of being human in the world -- a rabbit under a bush, 5-year-olds playing hopscotch on the driveway, the pungency of wet pavement, the poking of grass and gravel underfoot.

When we roll up the windows and turn on the air, we're twice removed. When we play the radio or a CD, we're thrice removed.When we listen to the radio or a CD and talk on a cell phone, we're removed a notch further. And when we're doing all that plus eating a burger or yelling at the kids in the back seat, our alienation from the environment becomes exponential.

I read Halter's words and can hear my husband's voice. His biggest pet peeve on his long drives to and from work involved people (women) in big SUVs as they multi-tasked (cell phones, mascara/make up application, coffee drinking, hair combing, and even reading while driving erratically and often coming within a hare's breath of running him off of the road.

Another touch with being green also originated at IWW with an article by a member, Wendee Holtcamp. Her article Thirty Days of Consumer Celibacy appears on OnEarth's website and not only follows her experiment into recycling and not buying new items for thirty days. It also imparts information about the biggest polluters and the project San Francisco Compact, started in 2006 by several concerned women.

Holtcamp wrote,

The average American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash a day -- a figure that,
according to the Environmental Protection Agency, includes paper, food, yard
trimmings, furniture, and everything else you toss out at home and on the job.

The leaders in pollution can be listed in a relatively short list: "cars and trucks; meat and poultry farming; crop production; home heating, hot water, and air conditioning; household appliances; home construction; and household water use and sewage treatment."

Moving on with the green synchronicity that came together this week, let me introduce a former IWW member Sandra Friend. She inspires me with her immersion into environment and Florida and her writings. She has written several books and articles about hiking, especially about hiking in Florida.

When I'm concerned that its time for the pest control guy to spray for bugs, she's slogging through some swamp locating mystery orchids and leading tours. She and Wendee leave me in the dust when it comes to environmentally responsible.

But with everyone coming together in a Greenpeace kind of week, maybe I'll finally step up and do my part -- after the bug guy gets done spraying for roaches and spiders and....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Awards season has begun

Janet Rudolph, The Mistress of Mystery, for Mystery Readers International, released the list of 2007 Macavity Awards nominees. These nominees were published in the previous year, 2006.

P.D. James won the first Macavity in 1987 for Best Novel with her: A Taste of Death; while Faye Kellerman and Marilyn Wallace tied for Best First Novel with Kellerman's The Ritual Bath and Wallace's A Case of Loyalties.
Sue Grafton won the short story award that first year with her The Parker Shotgun.

It is fun to see these names, so familiar now, back when their careers were less established.

Winners of the four categories: Best Mystery Novel, Best First Novel, Best Nonfiction, and Best Short Story, are chosen by members of the Mystery Readers International organization Voting must be completed for this year's winners by September 1. Winners will be announced at the annual convention, Bouchercon, in Alaska later in September.

For a full list of nominees and past nominees and winners, visit Mystery Readers International website.

The name for this award came from the mystery cat of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats).

And if you will notice a previous blog post I made about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, you will know why I ache to attend this year's convention -- Diana is a special guest. Plus, the stories I hear about this convention -- what a celebration!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Deja Vu or Freaky Friday

Is she living my life?

It feels like it.

A mystery publication gave me a book to review. From the first page it felt so familiar. In this novel the author described my youngest son, used his name, placed him in his favorite situation and that was just the opening scene. The book is set in an agrarian setting (much like my home town) with a heroine who is a farmer and a biker. The author graduated from a Mennonite college -- like my husband. And the author as well as her protagonist sound remarkably like a former editor who was also Mennonite and affiliated with bikers during her adventurous life. Even her disease of choice hits close to home.

When I perused the author's webpage, I saw an interview conducted by my personal hero and former colleague at the newspaper where I worked and first grew into the title: writer. The author presides over a writing group in the heart of my old stomping grounds surrounded by local writers with whom I had attended writing meetings back when I lived in the land where I belonged.

And she's doing readings in my favorite libraries in my home landscape.

Is this what happens when we don't take advantage of opportunity when it presents itself? When we don't follow through on the ideas we start to turn into novels and never complete -- someone else does it?

I'm not saying she has done anything wrong. Not at all. I'm just saying -- she's living my life.

She's living my life! Or at least the life I expected to live in the location where I expected to grow old.

I sent this author a couple of emails and I imagine by now she thinks I'm a stalker or threatening lawsuit. Nope. Nope. Nope. I am just dazed and shocked and suddenly aware of how far from my expected life I have wandered. Talk about synchronicity and the butterfly effect.

Maybe it is time I at least finished those novels I started. See if maybe I can recoup a bit of my life before the fates hand her my story ideas, too. But if I write in characters based on my own family and experiences -- will it sound like I'm copying her?

The universe is shrinking and we are all connected. Now I'm wondering just how connected are we? It has been a Freaky Friday.

By the way, the novel is great. I think mine would be better -- but the funny thing is -- publishers don't sell unfinished novels.

I definitely need to finish those earlier efforts. Maybe this is the motivation I need -- is the universe telling me something? I'll pass along any other messages the universe hits me over the head with.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eat like a kid? Exercise like one!

It came to me during one of those midnight insomnia-induced moments when every idea sounds original and exciting and world changing. The amazing aspect of this brilliant idea is that I remembered it this morning.

The concept, so simple, begins with that little ditty made famous by Romper Room -- a morning children's television program that was around when I was a child. Yes, they had television then.

Children gathered around Miss Whats-her-name and sang:

Bend and stretch
Reach for the sky.
Stand on tippy-toes
Ohhhh so high.
Perform this once like a preschool child would do it.
Next time bend and stretch like a Yoga instructor. Graceful, bend and let your hand graze the floor before you straighten and reach, reach high, extend your reach, raise up on your toes, breathe, breathe, hold it, reaching for the sun, higher, reach for the universe. Feel yourself one with nature. Relax.

Cleansing breath.

Perform like a basketball player going for a lay up. Bend over that ball and then raise up to arch it into the basket....

Perform like a football player going for a block.

Perform like an elderly person carefully moving muscles she hasn't even remembered she had.

Think of others who could perform this -- role play. A chef, a gardener (take time to smell the roses), a ballerina, a cat, a horse. A cloud. How would a cloud do this?

Exercise as a meditation, a celebration, a benediction, amen.

By the time you have exhausted your imagination, you may have gotten a good workout and had a bit of fun at the same time.

Maybe tomorrow's workout could be: pretend you're a frog. Croak, hop, jump on your lily pad, jump off, jump on.... Or a horse trotting, cantering, walking backward, jumping hurdles....

You have a whole world of nature to emulate. If you are lucky enough to have a few kids around -- I bet they could add a few variations to your exercise routine.

Of course, my favorite exercise regime, one done in private with windows covered involves the soundtrack from the movie "Dirty Dancing."

I'll say no more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Five Good Reasons to Lose Weight

Jamie Lee Curtis says, in an interview for Ladies Home Journal's July 2007 issue, that she regrets contributing to the focus on the obsession on people's bodies. "I perpetuated that," she said. "I feel badly that my early career was so focused on what I looked like and my body. I do regret the message I sent."

So if we throw out the need to maintain a perfect body for ornamental reasons, what reasons are there to lose weight?

1. Health. Yes, yes, we have all heard that one. So, if you have diabetes, that means you give up sugar. If you are a couch potato, you get up and start walking. If you smoke. Quit. But there needs to be a bigger motivator than health for those of us who overeat, because food is not just a bad habit, it is a need in itself or it is fulfilling other needs -- physical, emotional, spiritual, sensual. So what do you replace that comfort food with?

2. Love yourself. If you learn to love YOU, the importance of food will diminish. You will find the things you really wanted to be doing when you were eating. The first step to loving yourself is getting acquainted.

"Self, this is me."

"Me, this is self."

Can you sit down and write a list, without hesitation, of the things you love and hate? Or, maybe you are more like me, I can give you that list about the people I love -- but me, I just haven't taken time to think about me. What is my style? Who am I? Why do I eat? Why don't I put as much energy into taking care of me as I do everyone else?

In that same magazine, a photo spread and article about Princess Diana, made me realize that what a great example she is of a woman coming to know herself. We got to watch her go through several transformations, several bouts of self-flagellation and abuse, before she came to terms with the elegant, caring, mother/woman/humanitarian that was Diana. You can do this for yourself. Each day take care of yourself as you would take care of others -- with love, caring, concern, forgiveness, and most of all with consistent responsibility for this one life you've been given.

3. Body function. When you're eight years old you are as flexible as a rubber band. You are agile and have wonderful skin. You bounce back from skinned knees in minutes. Even at age 18, you're starting to lose some of that wonderful youthful function and by the time you've seen four or five decades, everything starts to give you trouble -- unless you've read the owner's manual and have taken care of this one body, the only model you will ever own.

A physical therapist taught me without saying a word the value of a well cared for body. She, in her thirties, performs a physically demanding job every day. She looks exquisite, healthy, thin, toned, tanned (its Florida after all) and most of all full of energy. She did not maintain her body in this manner so she could be beautiful -- being beautiful was one of the benefits -- a side benefit of healthy living. If she wanted to do her job well, she took care of herself. If she wanted to ride a bike, swim, tumble with her child, make love with her husband -- she needed a healthy body. She lives life fully. She's ready for anything.

In that same issue of LHJ, the advertisements for diets, Jenny Craig, clothes, hair products, makeup, all proclaim the same mantra of "beauty, do it for beauty." I was never that vain and beauty opened a Pandora's box of temptation that I'd rather avoid.

Good health, a body that allows me to participate in whatever comes my way, now that's a different proposition.
But this one healthy woman, devoted to helping other people use their bodies more fully, works muscles and bones and knows just by touch what is best for each body-- including her own.

4. Finances. It is cheaper to be healthy and thin than fat and disease ridden. I must buy a sack of potato chips. I drive to the grocery store, buy the chips, drive home and devour them. I've polluted the environment as well as my body. Now, if I plant a garden -- peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, radishes....I nurture the garden which requires physical exercise and effort, takes me out in the fresh air, and harvesting then eating that harvest adds to my good health. Plus, I can buy quite a few seeds and plants for the cost of a couple sacks of potato chips. (I get the $3.19/bag kettle chips).

Or, if you don't want to garden -- check how many veggies you can get for the cost of a bag of chips and a six-pack or a pizza or whatever your weakness is.

The cost of plus size clothes -- much higher than petites or misses.

The cost of buying two seats on an airplane so you can fit comfortably in the seat.
The cost of doctor's appointments, high blood pressure medicine, diabetes meds and testing equipment and then the treatment of side effects on eyes, circulation, kidneys, even moods and well being.

The cost of regret for a life not lived.

5. Disease avoidance. Everyone at sometime or another says, "If only I had done things differently." Once you have diabetes, sore joints, high blood pressure, heart disease, sexual dysfunction, and all of the other nasties that obesity contributes to, you've wasted too much time. Ask my cousin who almost died a couple of years ago which was the better life -- her years spent eating and watching life go buy from her couch in her home, or now, after losing 100 pounds, getting her health back and involved in not only the maintenance of her own self, but also now an avid participant in snowmobiling, walking, yard care, camping, and whatever she feels like doing. And at her new svelte self, anything she feels like doing includes quite a long list of things to do.

And she's kept that weight off and maintained this new lifestyle for a couple of years, now.

One added reason to lose weight: so you can teach your children to love and care for their bodies without saying, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Both of my sons have poor eating habits, a direct result of my inability to love myself and exchange food for what I truly needed to make me happy. I regret passing on this legacy of obesity to my kids.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hamilton Writers Guild Fiction Contest

Summer may be a great season for reading, but writers of short fiction should take note. It is an excellent time to fine-tune that short story and enter it in the second annual Hamilton Writers Guild Fiction Contest. With a 2,000 word limit, entries must be tightly written. And guidelines must be followed to the letter. Definitely double check to make sure your manuscript meets all of the guidelines or judges will quickly disqualify even the most exquisite prose.

Prizes may not put you in a new tax bracket, but are better than what most literary magazines will pay you for the same submission. First prize: $125; Second prize: $75; and Third prize: $50.

Entry fee is $10.

Here are the guidelines in a nutshell or visit the group's website.
**Category: General Fiction
**Limit 2000 words
**Deadline: Postmarked no later than October 26, 2007
**Manuscript must be typed, double-spaced on one side of 8.5 x10 white paper
**Staple all entries
**Include name, address, phone number, e-mail address, word count and where you heard about the contest on cover page only
**Do not put name, or any other form of identification, on the manuscript
**Entries will not be returned
**Unlimited number of entries allowed; entry fee must accompany each entry
**No e-mail entries
**Entries exceeding word count or not following the guidelines will be disqualified.

Winners will be announced on November 23, 2007 on the website

Individual winners will be notified by mail. Include a SASE for complete list of winners.

Just a bit of full disclosure. Last year's first place winner: me. My first ever contest win! I love this contest! And if I can win, that should give you a real hope that you can, too! Give it a try.

Send entries to:

Hamilton Writers Contest
PO Box 1205
Hamilton, Ohio 45012

Monday, June 18, 2007

So many books!

The summer reading habit remains strong and vibrant. In a perpetual summer, it is difficult not to set work aside and read year around. Temperatures are reaching into the 90s, the true Florida summer has arrived, and most of us are beginning our hibernation until the temperatures cool. It is the perfect time to read. Well, when isn't the perfect time?

Maybe perfect because people are introducing me to such exquisite books. I previously mentioned Diane Ackerman's Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden. That one is a keeper. I'm checking out Amazon and buying a copy that I can revisit again and again.

Amazon is my new best friend and worst enemy to my budget, I fear. For in addition to Ackerman's delight, a friend turned me on to the Outlander series by another Diane -- UK author Diana Gabaldon. I zipped through the first book Outlander and its 627 pages finishing up at 2 a.m. Friday night. It was that bittersweet moment when you've reached a satisfying ending and at the same time realize you've finished the book and must say good-bye to the land, time, and characters. Thankfully this is the first of five or maybe it is six books in the series and I'm heartened to hear that the author does not disappoint. So I'm impatiently waiting for book two to arrive: Dragonfly in Amber.

I'm not normally a staunch sci-fi or fantasy reader. Yes, yes, I enjoyed Harry Potter, and of course Charles de Lint's novels, as well as Alice Hoffmann which may or may not be sci-fi/fantasy but includes a bit of woo-woo in her writings (think Practical Magic) and of course Madeline L'Engle and Ursula K. Le Guin. Maybe Gabaldon's series is not strictly classified sci-fi or fantasty. It smacks of bodice ripper romance, time travel, historic Scotland (1700s) and a touch of sadistic homosexuality, but mostly it exemplifies rare fine story telling.

In the meantime I may hang around Gabaldon's website or Google interviews online. I always like to know more about the author and the process and what else she's working on. Speaking of websites, check out Marisha Pessl's site for her first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics published by the Penguin Group for a six figure advance. This novel has best seller, movie, and success written all over it. The writing is exquisite, the voice, the creativity, the plotting, the mystery....well done. Quite a departure from Gabaldon's setting, this novel takes place in contemporary U.S. and tells of a daughter and her father, a professor on the edge of academia. The heart of the book is actually a murder mystery, but this is so much more and so finely written that I expect to savor it for awhile.

A writing friend's reading list has me scrambling to line up copies to read next:
Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - David Eggers
Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Bangkok 8 - John Burdett
Gates of Fire - Steven Pressfield
Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner
The Mercy of Thin Air - Ronlyn Domingue (I know nothing about this book, but the title intrigues me).
So there is much to do. Much to read. I love to hear what others are reading. Please feel free to post your favorite reading lists.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Derrol's an anti-holiday kind of guy unless you're talking the biggies like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Those he embraces whole-heartedly, especially Christmas. But the other holidays he considers fabricated marketing ploys by Hallmark and related florists, diamond vendors, and generic retailers.

So when it comes to Father's Day, he says "Forget it. It isn't a real holiday."

We always remembered his and my fathers on this day. We attended the get-together his grandmother planned at the Harrod Park for her rapidly expanding family. And he would open the gifts our two sons lavished on him -- ties, VCR tapes, CDs, tools. (Usually the gifts were paid for by Derrol, directly or indirectly.)

But he always behaved like this holiday was not about him.

Now we sit miles away from family and truthfully, holidays don't mean much without family to share them.

Let me set the record straight. Derrol deserves the title Father and the good wishes that go with it, as no other father I know. Of course I know this guy a bit more intimately than any other, so take this endorsement as slightly suspect because I also love this guy.

From the day we married, he shouldered the burden of bread winner. Not because 'I'm a man and you're a woman.' But because he's a responsible kind of guy. We worked together. And when our first child was born, he stepped right up and took on this child's care and comfort without hesitation. That may sound like a given, but not every father does this. He shared the care -- dirty diapers and midnight feeds and all.

He did without to provide for his kids. And yes, he would give his life for his two sons -- and me. Maybe he has.

He gave up his dreams, and worked in a factory to pay the household bills. He gave up his friends, his sports, his weekends on the golf course to be with us, to fix failing appliances, rehab a house, mow the lawn, and provide memories for our kids. He worked days and studied nights to earn a college degree so he would be better prepared to provide for his family.

Whenever our adult sons, who live hundreds of miles away, need help, my thrifty, frugal, accountant husband, reaches for the checkbook and asks, "How much?"

He knows those gifts mean a tighter budget for us, but he wants to see our sons succeed. We both do.

If he were there, he would be helping them rehab their own houses, inviting them over for meals, lending them tools, giving advice and encouragement, sharing sports with them or horror movies, or music. So the only thing left is reach for the check book.

So this Father's Day morning as Derrol sips his coffee, finishes off his cinnamon roll and watches Tim Russert's news show, I wish him good health, a happy day. And with a thankful heart, I say, "Happy Fathers Day" to the only love of my life, the strongest man I know and the best example of fatherhood I have ever seen.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Of neighbors and lawn care

We, my husband and I, moved into our little house in Florida in December, 2004, following a record breaking year for hurricanes. We hunted for our new house beginning the day after Hurricane Charley hit, so we saw quite a bit of the devastation in Central Florida. The last truly disastrous hurricane in the area had been 40 years before.

In that one hurricane season of 2004, neighbors rediscovered the art of neighboring. They came out of their houses after each storm and surveyed the neighborhood. They shared food that defrosted in freezers bereft of electricity. They cooked on their grills in a giant block party and sweltered together since none had air conditioning to draw them inside of their individual homes. At the end of the day they joined together by the light of tea candles. The damage to properties repaired more easily with many hands. All chipped in where they could.

We missed out on this neighborhood bonding. But we heard the stories.

But by the time we waved good-bye to the moving van and settled into the work of turning a house into a home, we had met everyone who lived in the houses closest to ours. The sense of community still set strong in their thoughts.

Our experiences before moving to Florida had been primarily with farm folk and agrarian societies who will do anything for you in a crisis, but respect your privacy to the point of isolation during good times. So it was with awe and a few tears in our eyes that we looked on as the neighbor men brought their tools to our yard and set about helping my husband learn the art of manicuring St. Augustine grass.

Up north we eradicated such tough, viney, leggy, crabby grass, but down here in the land of sand and sun, apparently it is the grass of choice. John with his edger and Bill, armed with weed whacker, together they cleaned up our yard in short order. They talked with my husband who had just finished mowing the grass. I visited with Bill's wife. Then they all went their separate ways.

A couple of disaster-free years passed and we had all fallen back into the habit of doing our own things. A friendly wave, a smile, a short conversation, but for the most part, life kept us busy and headed in our own directions.

But, in the past few months, my husband's disability has reached the point where he can no longer pretend that all is fine. Our yard has turned shabby, our house needs painting. And that pesky St. Augustine grass vines nicely onto the sidewalk while growing unevenly and in patches throughout the yard in front of our house.

We hired a painter to take care of the house. And a co-worker at the office where Derrol works, volunteered his teen aged son to come and mow our lawn. It sounded like a good plan, if temporary, but better than getting warnings from the neighborhood homeowners association -- another new experience for us farming types. This son agreed to mow our lawn tomorrow afternoon.

Good, that's taken care of.

I chose not to look out on our shabby lawn and busied myself in the closets that needed cleaning.

A trip to the kitchen and a glance out of the window stopped me short. There, in our front yard, John and his lawn mower were making short work of our grubby looking lawn. By the time I shut my mouth and wiped the tears from my eyes, he whisked his machine back across the street and continued working on his immaculate lawn.

I could wonder if John had just gotten sick of looking at our ill-kept lawn -- its possible. But knowing his strong faith, his belief in being a good Christian, and his soft heart. I could learn alot about neighboring from John. I believe he guided his mower across the street and into our yard simply to help out a fellow neighbor who now leans on a cane and will soon be powering around in a wheel chair.

I believe that human kindness is still alive and well in our little neighborhood and that gives me hope for the rest of this battle scarred world.

As for John, I know my hugs and slobbery tears would make him uncomfortable. So I'm looking for just the right way, the right moment, to say thank you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Library's Summer Reading Program

Times have certainly changed.

Young and old have embraced blackberries, Ipods, cell phones that do everything including phone calls, and wireless hookups. I’m so techno-unsavvy that I’m sure this little list is out of date.

For someone like me who lost the technology battle in the era of Transformer toys, it is heartening to know that some things have not changed. One such tradition, the summer reading program, has begun in libraries across the United States.

Readers and wanna-be readers gathered around the table in the heart of our little Florida library to fill out the color coordinated forms. Then they searched the shelves for new reading adventures, and began fulfilling the requirements to read for twenty days and earn a free book.

If you see the ‘free books,’ you will realize these readers are motivated by more than the flimsy paperback books offered as rewards.

Reading is its own reward.

Holding a book in your hands, getting lost in the story, learning new facts that expand your world, meeting characters, visiting exotic landscapes – whether interior or exterior, will leave readers forever changed.

There’s nothing more exciting than introducing a child to books, or for that matter, introducing others to a favorite author.

Not long ago, while I shelved books as part of my library page job, I saw two women sitting together at a table. One was obviously teaching the other to read. They came to that same table every morning for several weeks and often as I worked, I could hear the one middle-aged woman sounding out words, fitting them together into sentences and stumbling over this new ‘technology.’ Her table mate nodded and murmured encouragement or offered assistance.

Figuring out this business of reading gave that woman such pleasure, more, I suspect, than deciphering the secrets of computer-generated technology. When the sounds and the rules began to fit together into recognizable words, her face would transform into a smile that lit the entire room. Her teacher’s face glowed even brighter.

Many mornings I worked, hidden by book shelves where I listened to her, hearing not just the words she sounded out. But also the growing joy in her voice as she mastered something her children had been doing since kindergarten. I could see her world growing with each session. Her steps lightened, her posture changed from victim to CEO of her world. Reading will do that for you.

For some reason the reading program is especially popular this year. The parking lot fills before the library doors open each morning. I step over little kids lying on the floor of the children’s section, their eyes never leaving the pages of the books in their hands. Parents and children hunt through the nonfiction section for books that will tell them interesting facts.

Several of our regular patrons bring in their fat record books that list every book they have read and another list for those they want to read. They meticulously search the collection, checking off books as they find them. Commuters hunt through our collection of audio books on cassettes and CDs, so they can enjoy books on their long drives. One admitted to driving several times around the block before turning into her driveway because, “I’d just gotten to a good part and had to find out what would happen!”

All walk out of the library filled with enthusiasm about the books clutched in their hands. Books they will step into, lose themselves in once they’re at home, or at the beach, or on vacation, or combating insomnia.

And all of those tiny little faces entranced by picture books as parents snuggle close and read to their sons and daughters. Is there any part of parenting better than that? I don’t think a cell phone, Ipod, or even blogging can compare to a good book, enjoyed alone or shared with someone you love.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

I Feel the Need to Knit

A few days ago knitting fanatic Peggy Vincent emailed me about the above pictured cupcakes. On this delightful website, instructions are given to 'knit' marzipan -- excellent instructions, I might add. I'm not sure marzipan knitting will reap as wide an appeal as knitting now has, but it is worth checking out what creative people are doing.

Having spent several years as CEO of my own little cottage cake baking industry, I know a bit about novelty decorations and probably feel more sure of my leaf tip than I do of my number seven knitting needles. Inevitably I begin each knitting project in fear of a dropped stitch. But the need to knit is strong.

My theory: knitting and crisis go together. It brought women together during World War I and II. Whether of Allies or Axis countries, women knitted woolen squares to sew together into blankets for the soldiers. My mother, born in 1912, remembered making these squares as a child. With her mother and other women of the little Ohio community, they gathered in the church fellowship hall armed with needles and yarn. The Red Cross distributed the finished blankets to the wounded. When the recipient touched the hand-knit squares, he would recall loving hands of his own mothers, sisters and wives.

Eleanor Roosevelt could host a tea party and talk politics with her husband and his cronies. She manipulated four double-pointed needles and turned out sock after sock for soldiers fighting World War II. Her knitting spoke as loudly as her words.

I recall one pre-teen summer, waiting my turn to model my 4-H sewing project at the annual style show. I looked out from the stage to see someone’s mother placidly knitting a pink sweater. Knit and purl, knit and purl. Her eyes were watching the stage as her hands did something completely different. She appeared to be an island of control and peace in the lively audience. I wanted to leap from the stage and sit by her side and ask, "Will you teach me such confidence, please?"

A recent move from the Midwest to the South, sapped more than my confidence. With my brain already full of details for the sale of one house, purchase of another and the move from one to the other, the need to knit overwhelmed me. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to follow a pattern. I simply needed to knit.

With some wonderfully forgiving yarn that makes anything look special, I cast on stitches. Forty, fifty, it didn’t matter. Enough stitches to keep me happy. And I sat, knitting the stitches from one needle to the next while my brain whirled with thoughts of this new life ahead of me. No purl, no counting, no thought of what I was making. Just knit, knit, knit. When the end of the skein appeared, I cast off the stitches and gazed at the thing I had created.

My blue collar work ethic requires that everything be useful. So, one more look at the rectangle, admiration for the even stitches and then I knew. "It’s a cat’s blanket."

And, with that declaration, I reached for another skein of yarn. Four cats needed traveling blankets and my soul needed lots of knitting as I unraveled our home and knitted it together in a strange land.

Today, young women have discovered the edginess of knitting as well as the soothing feel of stitches sliding from one needle to the next. Speakers and lecturers, preachers and teachers tell of spotting people of all ages listening and knitting in time to the words’ rhythm. My son, a heavy metal musician, described girls at the concerts, heads bobbing and bodies gyrating while knitting, knitting, knitting to the bash and groan beat. Their knitting needles, as fat as nunchuks, wobble and click, turning yarn, thread and ribbon into something as edgy as the music.

Women of all ages and backgrounds -- and yes, men, too, pick up the needles and gather in knitting groups and classes. Peggy, who introduced me to the cupcakes, helped a master knitter teach a group of young women the basics of the craft. This group began with only five or six members but has grown to more than twenty. They share knitting and one other thing in common: cancer. While their hands create projects of yarn, they fight off cancer and visualize knitting their bodies back to good health. With each knit or purl they zap one more cancer cell, one more malignancy.

Knitting begins with needles and yarn, but with each stitch, something else seems to grow – determination, confidence, good health, solace, even a community. Maybe we can knit and purl a peaceful world.

I feel the need to knit.

Friday, June 8, 2007

And We Have Lift-Off

At 7:38 p.m. Derrol, my cousin MJ and her husband Dan stood in our back yard with me to watch history in the making. We live about 60 miles from Merritt Island, Florida, home of NASA and the Kennedy Space Center and the site of today's Shuttle Atlantis launch.

MJ and Dan have traveled the United States, ridden through mining tunnels in Arizona, walked the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, felt the power of the ocean at Big Sur, and soaked in the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio.... There isn't much that surprises them any more.

But the shuttle launch was a new high for them.

Knowing that the bright flash, streaking across the sky was a space craft filled with courageous Americans headed for the space lab and a piece of the universe we can only imagine about -- left us all a bit breathless.

You must realize that we are the children of parents who were born about the time that the Titanic was sinking. They traveled in horse-drawn wagons and carriages, drove Henry Ford's first automobiles when they were a new invention, and knew hunger and deprivation during the Great Depression.

We were born in the midst of the nuclear bomb scare, the Cold War, talks of end times, and the early years of television. Now we stand in our backyard and watch a streak that will transport us all into the future.

Pretty heady stuff for four people from West Central Ohio who were just getting together for a little pizza and conversation.

God speed to the astronauts. And God help us with the future....

For more of my writing about growing up in the space race. Please check out my essay

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Calling on Harry Potter Fans!

It is countdown time! Now that I live in this Dr. Seuss land called Central Florida where most people work for a mouse or a group devoted to outer space exploration, I can't wait for Harry Potter to join this happy chaos. Universal Studios Theme Park is adding not only rides, but basically a Harry Potter land. A transcript of the announcement is on the Leaky Cauldron website or the Orlando Sentinel's news story. The planned completion is targeted for 2010.

We never outgrow the wonder found in great children's literature and I am one of the millions who fell under Harry Potter's spell from the first moment. I've ordered my copy of the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows from Amazon and I'm waiting rather impatiently for the release of the next movie on July 11. I found the official Warner Bros. website and enjoy watching the trailers and teasers.

It is a two-fer month, July is. A new Harry Potter movie and another book! Sadly the last in the series, unless we can twist the author's arm to continue the saga. Special events are planned with the author, J.K. Rowling including a midnight signing and book reading the day the book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, is released. At midnight, July 21, 2007, the author will meet with more than 1,000 lucky readers to sign books at the Natural History Museum in London. Approximately 500 of those lucky few will be invited to listen to the author read.

Not having spent much time online looking for Harry Potter links, I'm amazed at the J.K. Rowling official website and all of the fun bells and whistles! It refers to the Leaky Cauldron site hosted by Melissa Anelli, a freelance writer who is working on a book tentatively titled: Harry, a History of the Fiction, Fans and Phenomenon of Harry Potter to be published November, 2008 by Simon and Schuster Pocket Books. The Leaky Cauldron site is maintained by a whole staff of Harry heads and it is the place to go for all things Harry including discussions of symbolism, trivia, the latest JK Rowling news and interviews, and even a newsletter The Owl Post.

If that isn't enough Harry Potter for you, check out the Fan Links and immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter. In the meantime, I plan to reread the Order of the Phoenix and be ready for the movie's debut.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Women in Art

This video appears on You Tube tagged: Women in Art. More than a million have viewed it during the month it has been on You Tube.

It features 500 years of women in Western art in 172 seconds. It covers the spectrum: renaissance, baroque, neoclassicism, impressionism, rococo, fauvism, surrealism, abstract, realism, romanticism, noveau, and morph. Morph is new to me, but the way one face 'morphs' into the next leaves the impression that these women have something to say.

What a creative use of video technology. Apparently it was created using Morpheus, but was also made with quite an eye for art, skill, and passion -- not to mention patience.

I can only wonder what art will entail twenty or one hundred years from now. It is exciting to consider the possibilities. But then it is difficult to consider the possibilities because they are endless! Imagine that all of these women represent a form of art that was cutting edge, innovative and some times shunned. I'm glad we're more accepting of new and different today and eager to see what's next.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cultivating Delight

In a previous blog I mentioned my delight in a turn of phrase, new perspectives and book discussions -- among other things. But books and writing truly excite me and none more exciting than a recent read: Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden by Diane Ackerman.

On her website, she's described as an 'intellectual sensualist' -- exactly what I strive for in my own writings, but fall short. Ackerman's ability to create a scene, instill it with details for all of the senses, provide information beyond superficial, adding to what you thought you already knew about any topic, makes you fall in love with whatever she describes.

The Internet Writing Workshop's creative nonfiction list are discussing an essay Clothes Encounters by Donna Milmore that appeared in The Boston Globe's Coupling column. The simplicity and tone of both writings convey issues that speak to our souls. Milmore tells of recovering from the sudden death of her husband and Ackerman discusses deer surviving the winter and her relationship to them. When speaking of survival and love, simplicity certainly works best.

Ackerman takes her opening essay beyond the garden wall in her first sentence: "I plan my garden as I wish I could plan my life, with islands of surprise, color, and scent...."

And closes on a note of hope:

"Nurturing...gardeners are eternal optimists who trust the ways of nature and
believe passionately in the idea of improvement....Small wonder a gardener plans
her garden as she wishes she could plan her life."

[Photo at Hollis Gardens, Lakeland, FL by Derrol Goldsmith]

Saturday, June 2, 2007


In the Midwest we had Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter seasons. In rural areas we also had planting and harvest seasons. But down here in Florida we have a new division of time. Currently we are in the moment when Love Bug Season meets Hurricane Season. I'm rather hoping that the upside of that convergence is that the love bugs will stop their passionate mating and swarming and the hurricane will blow them out to sea.

Car wash enterprises are as busy as retail stores the day before Christmas. Trying to get smushed bugs off of grills and windshields can become a consuming passion when driving down I-4 and all you can see is bug guts smeared across the windshield. Any price seems reasonable if someone else will remove their little innards from your car. I hear that the bodies turn to cement and must be chipped off if someone takes too long getting around to washing them off.

Florida's seasons also refer to wet and dry. We're entering the rainy season, just left the dry or as some of us call it 'fire' season. Hopefully today's mild rains are enough to extinguish the multiple scrub fires that have ignited across Central Florida.

Whatever season we're in. My three cats and I have learned a secret to judging how severe or risky the day will be. We watch the anoles. Those adorable little bug-eating lizards with detachable tails. Nothing seems to shake them out of their complacent lives, except maybe the shadow of a hawk hovering too close. Otherwise they go about business as usual.

When the anoles disappear, its time to start preparing for nasty weather. Thankfully the anoles look blissfully happy.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Star Gazing

by Dawn Goldsmith

Deadlines, errands, cleaning, cooking -- all vie for my attention along with the people I love, work, pray, live, and commute with. Determinedly, head down, I set my jaw and bull my way through each day, multi-tasking, hugging kids while pushing another load of laundry in the dryer. By evening, I'm ready to collapse in front of the television and zone out.

I recall a summer evening. It beckoned to me. This particular night followed a non-stop day of canning tomato juice, gardening, house cleaning and baking. My sink overflowed with dirty dishes, pots and pans, but I stepped outside. Just a few minutes of fresh air and then back to work, I thought.

A gentle breeze shooed away the bugs and cooled my face. I sighed deeply and stepped from the porch into the yard. My hand brushed against a scented geranium and I inhaled the herbal rose fragrance that sprang into the air. I raised my arms and stretched, eyes shut, head back. With one particularly rejuvenating back bend, I opened my eyes and gasped. The sky above my head glowed.

Stars dotted the dark sky, an endless expanse that diminished everything. Our isolated Midwestern home, set amidst dusty fields of corn and soybeans, retreated into shadows while invisible crickets and peepers communicated their familiar night sounds.

The stars, glowing and twinkling, beckoned me to name, identify and sort out the planets from the stars, the satellites from blinking airplanes.

Assured that I can always find the Big Dipper, I searched for the familiar connect-the- dots outline. The North Star, pointing the way for navigators, glowed brightly. Venus loomed on the horizon, Mars pulsed red. And that was the extent of my astronomy prowess.
I called to my husband who had completed an intro-to-astronomy class in college. "Where did you say the Five Sisters are?"

"What? Where are you?"

He followed my voice and soon stood beside me. I pointed up. "The Five Sisters. Didn't you say that was a constellation?"

"Yeah." And he looked up. The serene night hugged us. We fell silent as we gazed at the stellar display. "There. There it is, I think. And over there, that's Leo. And there's Orion."


He drew close behind me and pointed over my shoulder. I felt his warm breath on my hair, and for the first time that day I relaxed into his strength and the beauty around me.

"Hey Mom! You're missing your favorite show!" My son shouted. "Mom? Mom? Where are you?"

I heard the door bang. "Out front," I directed, shouting into the dark.

He soon stood beside me. My techno-wizard who usually stared at a television or video screen stared open-mouthed at the sky. "What's that, Dad?"

"Orion. You see it?"

"Yeah. We learned about that in school."

We stood together, heads up, arms resting on each other's shoulders. "Look, a falling star! Did you see that?"

We all laughed and oohed and ahhhed. "There's another."

"That's cool."


Our words stilled and we moved closer together, content just to gaze at the sky and let the night's calm wash over us. My arms rested on my son in front of me, and I leaned against my husband -- a family sandwich. Our eyes focused upward on those tiny shards of light that had traveled billions of miles through space to light this particular dark night.

"God's in His heavens," I quoted, awed and wondering if Robert Browning had looked at a magnificent sky like this when he wrote those words.

The breeze turned cool and with a shiver, we looked earthward, coming back from our trip to the stars, refreshed and reconnected and soothed.

"All's right in the world." my husband added.

And it was.