From My Mother at Christmas

The year I was nine years old, my mother lost her life to a sudden cerebral hemorrhage two weeks before Christmas. I think about her every year at this time.

I was so young when she died, I didn’t really get to know her. I can’t remember anything she told me back then that could have helped me on my way, but, now, I hear much she might have said. I think perhaps she’s been telling me things all along; I just didn’t know to listen.

Daughter, as you grow up and go out into the world, make sure to learn to make some noise.  Laugh like a child.  Swear like a trooper when it’s needed. Speak what’s on your mind.  Be opinionated, and let the world know what your opinions are, even if it disagrees and wants to debate you over them.

Dress outrageously if it pleases you, and live up to your clothes. Wear stiletto heals. Wear plaids with stripes.  Wear your favorite T-shirt until it disintegrates.  Wear your individuality with confidence.

Picture your fantasy, and make it come true.

 Take risks. Do the things you dream but don’t dare.  Climb up a mountain. Jump from an airplane. Dive down to the ocean floor.  Go to Tibet and visit the Dalai Lama. Go to the movies alone.

Be whatever you want to be.  Be an astronaut.  Be a ballet dancer.  Be the President. Be a revolutionary.  Be true to yourself.  Be proud.

Don’t be afraid to express yourself.  Paint a picture. Write a novel. Throw a pot.  Weave a rug.  Dance with abandon. Sing loudly as though you could carry a tune.

Talk to children and to old folks; both have a lot to tell you. Talk to strangers. Talk to animals. Talk to yourself. 

Share your journey with good friends.  Share your good fortune with those less fortunate.  Share your expertise with anyone who needs it.  Share your life with someone you love madly. 

Marry a prince. Marry a poet.  Marry a doctor, a lawyer, or an Indian chief.  Marry your very best friend.

Explore your talents. Play the piano. Play hostess at the party of the year and wow them with your culinary skills.  Play tennis like a pro.

Be competitive, but play fair.  Play Scrabble with your husband, and let him win now and then. Play dress-up with your children and love them unconditionally.  Play on the floor with your grandchildren and spoil them every chance you get.

Live with love and laughter and joy.  Live your life fully and without fear. Daughter, live your life as if I were still in it. 

I hear you, Mom. Merry Christmas.


Mischief Afoot!

If you are lucky, the people you work with become like another family, your “office family,” if you will.  You share your triumphs and failures with them, confident of receiving warm congratulations or sincere sympathy, as appropriate.  They know your “home family” and are frequent participants in the major events of your life.  They dance at your wedding (hopefully not on the table) and happily accept the pink or blue bubblegum cigar (and in one case, both!) when your child is born. They come to parties and celebrations.  They grieve with you at family funerals.  And you do all the same with them.

As with all families, office families play jokes on each other. Naturally, in the course of day-to-day office activity, you get to know these people very well, and they you.  You learn their preferences and they appreciate your idiosyncrasies.  And sometimes, this knowledge erupts into delightful (and frequently hilarious) office shenanigans.  My favorite job and my favorite office family were at a software company.  Because it stands to reason that the software industry would draw some pretty creative people, it follows that office shenanigans could also be quite creative.

To wit:  Mike (the names have been changes to protect the innocent) had a thing about his “stuff.”  You could borrow his stapler or tape dispenser, but you had better return them.  Alas, because people are people, some didn’t, and Mike would be forced (in high dudgeon, I might add) to go in search of his stuff the next time he needed it.  It became a “thing,” and poor Mike took some world class teasing about it   One Monday when he came into work, Mike was greeted by the product of  his co-workers’ creativity.  Every single object on Mike’s desk – his phone, his computer, every pencil, every piece of paper, every paperclip, everything – had been labeled with Mike’s name.  We were all issued notepads bearing the company logo at the top and our names at the bottom.  Mike’s weekend marauders had cut his name from the bottom of his note pad sheets, and taped it to everything on his desk.  Gotcha!

To wit: Mary was a little obsessive about order and organization.  Everyone had an 18-volume set of documentation at our desks, and nothing drove Mary crazier than to have one of the books out of order on the shelf.  These manuals were not numbered, you understand; they had subject matter titles on them.  But Mary knew what order they should be in (and it wasn't alphabetical), and heaven help anyone who returned a manual to anything but its proper position in the rank. Too good to resist, right?  The weekend marauders hit again.  Monday morning, Mary came in to find every manual in the wrong place on the shelf.  With much grumbling and grousing, deep frowns and deeper sighs, Mary immediately restored the books to their correct position.  I mean, really, who can work when things are not as they should be?  It didn’t take her long to discover that she had been yet another victim of the aforementioned creativity.  Turns out, the manuals were never moved from their rightful place on the shelf at all.  But the paper title labels that slid into a sleeve along the spine of the books had been removed and shuffled.  When she meticulously rearranged the books to put the spine labels back into the right place, she had actually been moving the books out of order.  Gotcha!

To wit:  One responsibility of the job was to teach week-long customer classes, during which one was out of the office. Because the company was growing so quickly, there was always a shortage of desk chairs.  When someone was out of the office, their chair was often moved temporarily to the cubicle of a newbie for whom a new chair had not yet been delivered.  I really liked my chair.  It had good back support and tilted just enough.  It was a great chair, and I was MUCH more productive in that chair.  You know what I mean, right?  Right?  I was one of the lead instructors, so I was frequently out of the office.  And, sure as the day is long, I would return to find my chair gone.  Off I would go, examining every chair (which all looked the same) to find my special chair.  Well, I finally got smart, and attached my name to the back of the chair.  Now I could just walk up and down the rows of cubicles and easily retrieve my chair.  One Monday I returned after a week in class to find a lawn chair at my desk, bearing my name on the back.  (Very funny… bunch of wise guys!)   I started down the row of cubicles, and lo!  Every single chair in every single cubicle had my name on the back.  Gotcha!

I really loved that job, and I miss it.  But it’s not the work I miss.  I miss my crazy family.


100-Word Challenge: Hope

This is my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge: Hope.  This week's challenge is in honor of Blog Nosh Magazine's online blog carnival, Loads of Hope for the Holidays.

Hope is a small word, but a powerful emotion.  Though this little verse meets the challenge of just 100 words about hope, hope deserves so much more.  I hope you will read my previous post about Hope for the Flowers, a wonderful little book by Trina Paulus which does hope far more justice than I ever could.

When hope burned out and was gone,
It took with it optimism and joy,
Leaving a void filled with ashes
Of anguish, despair and cold.

But hidden within,
In a spot halfway between heart and soul,
An ember of hope flickered dimly,
Refusing to give up and go.

With a breeze of kindness, a waft of goodwill,
A gust of love and support,
With a warm hug just when needed,
The flicker was fanned and soon caught.

The ember began to grow warmer,
It glowed, then burst into flame
Hope once again burned brightly,
Bringing optimism and joy back again.


Hope for the Flowers

Hope and direction can come from unexpected places when someone feels he has lost his way.  Years ago, at a time the future looked really bleak to me, a little book came along to boost me out of my funk.  Hope for the Flowers awakened new hope in me.

When my daughter was about ten years old, someone gave her this book for Christmas.

"Mom, will you read it to me?" she pleaded.

At the time, I lived in a state of perpetual exhaustion.  I was the single mother of three children.  I was a working mom, trying hard to forge a career.  I was a housekeeper, cook, laundress and chauffeur.  I was depressed and I was tired.

"OK," I told her, "but only ten pages. We'll read a little each night until we reach the end."  Hope for the Flowers is not a big book, with only a little over 150 pages, and many of them have illustrations.  But ten pages were all I thought I could manage.

I began reading, and much later than I expected, I finished.  "The End."

The little book was mesmerizing.  I've never really known what the author Trina Paulus had in mind whan she wrote this story about two caterpillars named Stripe and Yellow. I initially thought it was a children's book.  After all, it had been a gift for a ten-year-old, and it was filled with pictures.  But after reading it, I wasn't so sure.

Apparently, I'm not alone.  Over the years, I have given Hope for the Flowers to many people.  I never know where in a bookstore I'll find it.  Sometimes, it's in the Children's department, sometimes Philosophy, sometimes Self-Help.  Amazon describes it as a story for ages seven and older.  The book's cover says that it is "a tale--partly about life, partly about revolution and lots about hope for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read)."

Whatever she had in mind, Trina Paulus produced a book that is so much more than an entertaining little story (though it certainly is that).  This anecdote illustrates that more than anything I could say.

Years after reading the book to my daughter, I was a department manager at a software company.  A member of the department was just not working up to par.  We sat down to talk about it, and I asked him what the problem was.  He told me that he didn't know if he really liked his job, even though he had spent his college years preparing for it.  He sounded really discouraged, and I didn't know what I could do to motivate him to do better.

The next day I brought in my copy of Hope for the Flowers, and suggested he take it home over the weekend and read it.  On Monday morning, he returned the book to me, along with his resignation.  I was stunned!

"But what are you going to do?" I asked him.

I've taken a job with my brother-in-law," he answered, looking happy for the first time in months.  "I going to be a fishmonger."


100 Word Challenge: Thinking Out Loud

This is my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge:  Thinking.

Thinking Out Loud

If ever I go missing,
I won’t be out of town.
I won’t be in the office, the kitchen, or
Wandering about in my nightgown.

I won’t up be to my ears in paperwork
Or my elbows in flour or dishsoap.
I won’t be battling calories or crowds,
Or the feeling there’s just no hope.

I won’t be in a hurry,
A tizzy or a snit.
I won’t be out of my head, or
Out of energy and ready to quit.

I won’t be off my rocker, or
In a fit of pique.
If ever I go missing,
I’ll be in Martinique.

The Healing Place

Years ago, I thought of a hospital as a healing place.  Oh, yes, certainly I knew that some people were not healed, and some went in never to leave.  But my experience with hospitals was positive, until it wasn’t.

It was in a hospital that I first met my three children.  I waddled in, holding my aching back, convinced that “this” would never end.  And then, after many hours of ever-louder moans and complaints, a nurse laid a perfect little person in my arms, and I realized how very “worth it” all the discomfort was.

I worked at as a Candy Striper in a hospital, delivering flowers, helping the elderly eat, and generally pitching in where I could.  I found it very rewarding.

Several times, I was admitted to be repaired in some way.  Fix this broken bit, take out that unnecessary bit.  My care was excellent, attentive and caring, and I left in better shape than when I’d gone in.

And then, fifteen years ago, my positive view was dashed against the rocks of reality, and I learned that a hospital can be far from hospitable.  I was admitted for a simple “band-aid surgery.” Actually, I was not even meant to be admitted at all, because my procedure was so simple, it was categorized as “day-surgery” and I was scheduled to go in, be fixed, and released within hours.

Not so fast, Grasshopper.  After the procedure, I had a slight fever, and the surgeon kept me overnight “just to be safe.”  By morning, the fever was raging, and one of the tiny surgical incisions was a little red.  Three weeks later, I finally left the hospital, limp and exhausted.  I had fought (unsuccessfully) one of those flesh-eating bacteria that was killing people all over the globe, ingested huge doses of the strongest antibiotics available (to no avail), slipped in and out of consciousness as my little “guests” dined hungrily at my table.  I suffered surgical removal of the infection, which left my abdomen looking like someone had carved a two-pound filet from it. I lay placidly in my bed as doctors younger than my son traipsed though for Grand Rounds, and honed their craft in the classroom of my pain.  And I learned to think much less positively about hospitals.

This week, I spent a week in one of the best hospitals in Boston, supporting my daughter as she was repaired.  I waited for 19 hours while she was in the OR having complex microsurgery, alternating between optimism and fear.  I returned every day to sit at her bedside for eight hours: three days in the ICU and three days in a private room. 

I questioned everything the nurses and doctors did to her, gave her, and told her.  I looked to be sure they washed their hands or used an antibacterial before they touched her.  I watched her struggle to sleep, constantly interrupted by an endless stream of staff members who came to poke, prod, measure, listen, and ask “How are you doing? Have you been able to sleep a little?” I listened to the cacophony of the hospital, the constant beeps and boops, honks and bonks, whacks and wooshes.

And I wondered how anyone ever manages to heal in this healing place.  Thankfully, my daughter did, and at the end of a horrible week, I was able to drive her home.


Crabby Old Man

This came into my e-mailbox this morning, as so many of these things do every day. Normally, I scan them, dismiss them as schmalzy at best or pure hoax at worst, and delete them. But this one gave me pause. Coming so closely on the heels of my 100-Word Challenge offering on Kaleidoscope, "The Weather Report," which features a grumpy old man, this spoke to me. I have no idea if this is true. But even if it is pure fiction, I see the truth in it. I don't usually post outside material; this time, I make an exception.


When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Missouri. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci

Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses? . .. ..   What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . ... .      when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man, . ... . . ... .       not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . …. . .     with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . ….. . .  and makes no reply .
When you say in a loud voice ..  'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . . .    the things that you do .
And forever is losing . . . . . .       a sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . .         lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .    the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .     Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . .  .you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am . . . . . .         as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . .    as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten .. . . .      with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . .. . .    who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen . . . . .     with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . . . .  a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . . .  my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . . that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . . . . .     I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . .   and a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . . .. . . . .        my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . . . .   with ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons .. . . .   have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me. . .   to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, . . . . . . .      babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . .   my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . .. . my wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . .        shudder with dread..
For my young are all rearing . .   young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . .      and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man . . . . . . . .    and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age . . . . .  look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . . . . . .    grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . . . .     where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . .  a young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . .. . . . .  my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . . .     I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living. . . . .   life over again.

I think of the years, . . . . . . .      all too few gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . .     that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people. . .   .open and see.
Not a crabby old man. . . . . . .    look closer . . . . see ME!!!


100 Word Challenge: The Weather Report

This is my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge:  Kaleidoscope

The Weather Report

The air in the countryside of my noggin used to be so clear and crisp, the grumpy old man thought, like a perfect autumn day. My view of today was vivid, dappled by shadows of yesterday, brightened by clear skies of tomorrow. But now? It’s like seeing the world through a kaleidoscope. The colors and shapes of the past swirl and change, filling my head with multi-hued fog. Can’t see a damn thing!

Just as well, he decided. Today is overcast by gloomy skies of gray. And tomorrow? Bah. Black as a thundercloud.

The forecast through the kaleidoscope is sunnier.


100 Word Challenge: Give

Give Me Strength

It’s not easy hanging out with her.
She looks at life through the wrong end of the telescope,
And whatever what I do, it’s wrong.

Friendly chit chat is a challenge.
She hears everything from deep underwater,
No matter what I say, it’s garbled.

I have so much trouble with the eggshells.
No matter how gingerly I walk with her,
I always seem to break some.

Just when I think I’ve gotten the hang of it,
And the relationship is finally good, I say or do something “wrong,”
And poof - it’s right back to square one.

Give me strength.


100 Word Challenge: Material

Finding Gramma

The old cobweb-covered trunk contained the last bit of Gramma’s stuff left to go through.  Maggie blew the dust and webs from the lid and opened it.   On top was a tissue-wrapped bundle, faded and brittle with age just as Gramma had been.  She’d never known Gramma as anything but old.

Carefully unwrapping the package, she found a gossamer wedding veil of material lighter than a whisper. Nestled beneath was a portrait of a beautiful young girl smiling serenely on her wedding day.  The twinkle in her eyes seem to say, “Hello, Maggie.  I knew you’d find me one day.”

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope was always a challenge for me when I was in grade school.  That was a problem, because jumping rope was something all the girls my age did, and it was effortless for them.  Not for me.

I could handle individual rope jumping, as long as it wasn’t double-time or something tricky.  Oh, some girls could do speed jumping (hot peppers, I think it was called), but it wasn’t typical.  No one did rope cross-overs or any of that fancy stuff.  So when it came to just me and my rope, I was fine.

It was when jumping rope became a group activity that I was in the weeds.  Two girls held a long rope, one at each end.  Standing about 8-10 feet apart, they turned the rope over and over, just kissing the ground on each pass.  (If, horror of horrors, it was double-dutch, there were two ropes moving in opposite directions!)  Other girls ran into the turning rope (sometimes in pairs or more), began jumping and chanting their favorite rope jumping ditty.  And they did it with such ease!  But as I waited in line for my turn, I was a basket case.  Moving into that turning rope at just the right moment and jumping over it at just the right time... Oh, it was terrifying.

I’ve thought about jumping rope a lot over the years. Starting school on the first day, I thought about it.  When I moved into a new neighborhood (which I did a lot as a kid), I thought about it.   Learning to merge into traffic on the highway, I thought about it.  Beginning a new job or joining a team project, I thought about it. And I came to this conclusion: I was just not very good at jumping in.

I still think about it today but you know, I think I’ve gotten the hang of it.  Just don’t bring any ropes.


I'm loving this

Thanks to Magneto Bold Too


Thoreau Thursday - "As if you could kill time without injuring eternity"

As if there were all the time in the world…

As if… we can roam about in our gas-guzzling machines, leaving the air smelling like a rose, and fresh water pours endlessly from the ground, pure and safe to drink.  Factories produce their goods without dumping toxins into the air and the rivers, and a tree grows in a day.

As if… no one is clubbing baby seals for their winter coats, and polar bears have an easy commute to their icy homes.  There are more than just 3000 giant pandas, tigers, or black rhinos left, and elephants can forget.

As if …all babies are born healthy and loved, and no children are ever hurt or neglected by their parents. A man never beats his wife, and there really is a happily ever after.

As if… everyone has enough food, warm clothes and a roof overhead, and there are no illegal drugs sold on street corners and in school yards.  There is no such thing as a drive-by, a turf war or “187” sprayed on a wall.  All children are safe, educated, and can look forward a good future

As if there were no hurry.

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.


Withdrawing from Thanksgiving Dinner

I think I am suffering from withdrawal.  I realize, of course, that means I am probably also suffering from an addiction.  Yeah, who knew?

Every year for the past 35 years or so, I’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner. 

It started out small (as I suppose most addictions do).  In the beginning, as a relative newlywed, I only had to set the table for two.  I guess we could have invited the parents and parents-in-law, but we could barely afford to feed ourselves, let alone guests.  Good thing, because, as I remember it, portions of that first attempt were fed to the dog: they were unfit for human consumption.  (I never roasted the turkey with the plastic giblet bag still inside as a family friend once did, though, filling her kitchen with noxious smells.)  Thanksgiving Dinner was a Disaster.

In time, new dishes were added to the menu.  Sometime around the beginning of September, I began to pore over cookbooks to see what the experts cooked for Thanksgiving dinner.  I bought magazines featuring a mouthwatering turkey on the cover (which in October is just about every other magazine on the newsstand) and learned how to produce one myself.  I began to undertake more ambitious side dishes and desserts.  Thanksgiving Dinner was an Evolution.

As the years passed, children and increasing financial wherewithal were added to the mix, along an improvement of my culinary skills.  Guests were invited, the table looked like a picture from one of those magazines, and everything was delicious.  The meal was eagerly anticipated by family and friends. Thanksgiving Dinner became an Event.

Eventually, the kids’ taste buds matured and the Thanksgiving meal became something other than “dinner” to them.  They began to have opinions about components of the meal and the family developed favorites.  The meal transformed from an opportunity for experimentation into one where I dare not stray from the expected menu, lest I be besieged with disappointment.  Thus, every year we have James Beard’s Favorite Turkey, with two kinds of stuffing, one a bread stuffing, the other sausage and apple.  Mashed potatoes, gravy, scalloped sweet potatoes with orange brown sugar sauce, green beans, and cranberry sauce accompany the bird.  Thanksgiving Dinner became a Tradition.

Every now and then, I’d try to sneak in a little shift from the norm.  “Where’s the relish tray?”  Heaven forbid!  No olives, celery sticks, and sweet little pickles!   “What happened to the sweet potatoes?”  “What are those round things in the cranberry sauce?”  I learned that I could add new things as long as I didn’t take anything away from the traditional spread.  Homemade cranberry sauce was OK, but only if there was also a dish of Ocean Spray jellied sauce on the table.  I could try a new dressing, but the bird had to be stuffed with the tried and true.  The number of dishes became so great that they no longer fit on the table, and I set up a buffet in the kitchen. Thanksgiving Dinner became an Extravaganza.

This year, I won’t be cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. Oh, I always knew this day would come.  The kids are all adults, with children of their own.  Their lives have become complicated, and travel to Mom’s house for Thanksgiving Dinner has become difficult.  We live over 2½  hours away and the round-trip journey with a car-full of kids is too much to work in around such a big meal.  It’s far easier for us to make the drive.  So this year, we are going to our daughter’s for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving Dinner has become a Transition.

I never realized that I had become addicted to the annual Thanksgiving ritual.  But the signs are all there.  Browsing the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, my hand reaches out for the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit featuring “68 Recipes to Mix and Match” on the cover, much like it used to reach out for the phantom cigarette when I was in the throes of quitting.  I wake in the middle of the night, wondering where my turkey lifters are stored.  I find I’m dreaming of table decorations, new dressings and desserts.  Over and over, I have to remind myself that I have nothing to do for the next week, except get in the car on November 26th and drive east. <Sigh> Thanksgiving Dinner has become Someone Else’s.


Say what?

As you can no doubt tell, I am relatively new to the whole blogging universe. (Hey, I never said I was quick.) As I wander around checking out this brave new-to-me world, I’ve realized that I don’t know how to speak the language. Terms and expressions keep cropping up for which my mental dictionary is of no help at all.

Just a few examples:

After the Jump: The sequel to the old Pointer Sisters song?
Blargon: I think that must be what this is.
Blego: The second in a series of alphabetized Lego blocks?
Blog Feed: Well, that seems obvious, but I can’t get the cookie to stay in the CD tray.
Bloggered: I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good.
Blogorrhea: Does Pepto Bismol help?
Bye-Line: Some say “goodbye,” others say “so long.
Comment spam: See “blog feed”
Deliciousing: Cooking with spices?
Link Love: Hanky panky on the golf course?
Meme: The plural of memo?
Moblog: Who the heck is Mo, and how do I find his blog?
Ping: The prequel to Pong?
Podcast: A radio transmission from the Pod People?
Rant: Allowing your inner five-year-old to have a tantrum in your post?
RSS: The sound of a snake with a speech impediment?
Simultaneous blogasm: Oh, I’m not even gonna go there.
Slashdotted: Ouch, I bet that hurt.
TrackBack: Bread crumbs left on the Web so you can find your way home?

See what I mean?  I am obviously ill-equipped.  Darn, and I've always been pretty good at languages (with the exception of doublequack duckspeak; I refuse to learn that on principle).

Currently, I am pondering the latest addition to my Blogshere (which I have learned is the name for the aforementioned blogging universe) Phrase Book. I’ve seen many references to “mommybloggers.” I am a mother, but it’s been a long time since anyone called me “Mommy.” Does that make me a “grammyblogger”?  (No offense to my grandchildren, but, oh, I hope not. I’d rather be known as a color commentator on this game called Life.)

Like any good traveler in a foreign land, I am slowly learning to speak the native tongue of the blogosphere.  In the meantime, if I happen to bump into you out there, please pardon my pidgin blargon.


100 Word Challenge: Examine

The Doula and the Butterfly

The preschool class had the opportunity to observe the lifecycle of a butterfly, from egg to flight.  Lillian was eager to get to school every day, taking her role as butterfly doula very seriously.  Her mom was a doula, and she knew Mom helped when babies were born.  This was her chance to be just like Mom.  She would help this butterfly be born. 

So, diligently, Lillian monitored her charge, watching as the egg became a caterpillar, and then a chrysalis.  She could hardly wait!  One day, as she examined the chrysalis, the butterfly finally emerged.  “Hi.” she exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”


Free Write Friday: The Three Little Pigs

There was a time when I was a little kid that I had a terrible fear of something bad happening to my house.  A hurricane would come and blow us all away.  A flood would carry the house out to sea.  There would be an earthquake, and the house would fall into whatever dark abyss was down there in the huge crack that would appear, taking us all with it.  There would be a tremendous avalanche and the house would be gone forever (or at least until Spring) covered in tons of snow.  A fire would come and consume the house, burning us and all our stuff in a gigantic ball of flame.

This fear was right up there with my fear of the Thing that lived under my bed.  I thought I might be able to avoid the Thing by lying very quietly right in the middle of the mattress, because if I were still enough, he wouldn’t know I was there.  Besides, his arms weren’t long enough to reach me if I were dead center.  But I could think of no remedies to the house disaster I knew was coming.  The only thing I could come up with was to live in a brick house.  Of course, my opinions about architecture didn’t carry much weight with my parents, who were just fine with the wood frame house we called home.  I knew in my heart that they were being terribly short-sighted, but there was little I could do about it.  I could only hope that I would survive their naivetĂ© until I was old enough to have my own house, which would, of course, be brick. 

This fear was worse at night, because everybody knows that bad stuff always happens when you aren’t paying attention and least expect it.  I knew we would all be sleeping soundly in our beds when disaster struck, helpless to fend it off and unable to escape before we met our doom.  Needless to say, my sleep was often fitful.  I was plagued by nightmares hot with flames, cold with snow, dark and deadly in the center of the earth. 

My parents were so concerned about the frequency with which I awoke terrified,  screaming, hot and sweaty (or cold and shivering, depending), and crying hysterically, that they took me to the doctor.  His diagnosis? Growing pains. Please. I knew better. We were going to perish in our house, soon to be destroyed in some cataclysm.  Of course I was not sleeping well.  If only someone would listen.

It was a terrible period in my childhood.  And I blame the three little pigs.


Thoreau Thursday: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

In 1917, when Dad was 12 years old and in the sixth grade, his father ran away from home, leaving Dad and his mother to fend for themselves. She had never worked outside the home, and besides, there wasn’t much out there for an uneducated woman. So she did what many women of the times might have done. She took in boarders. The house was big enough, and there were plenty of immigrants leaving Ellis Island and looking for a place to live.

Dad quit school, and went to work. Apparently, there was employment to be had for an eager lad willing to work. During his teens, he had a varied career. He was a bank runner, carrying paperwork to and fro for the fledgling Chase Manhattan Bank. He worked as a switchman for the railroad. That was when he lost his two front teeth, which were knocked out by a lantern swung by the signalman during a fight. He was an apprentice to an oil burner repairman. He even played first base on a semi-professional minor league baseball team. He never made much money, but what he made was turned over to his mother to help.

Dad never forgave his father. Long after Dad was an adult, my grandfather got in touch with him, hoping for a reconciliation with his only child. Dad refused to have anything to do with him. My grandmother had died young, an exhausted woman, and Dad just couldn’t see past that.

My grandfather tried many times to come back into his son’s life, only to be rebuffed. My brother once visited him in a nursing home at the end of his life, but I never met him. He never had the opportunity to meet his daughter-in-law and to get to know his grandchildren. Indeed, he never really got to know his own son.

My grandfather didn’t leave for another woman. He wasn’t chasing skirts, the bottle, the cards or the ponies. He was chasing his dream. After years of leading a life of quiet desperation, he decided to sing his song. He left to join Vaudeville. Living out of a trunk, he traveled the country for a while with a troop of performers. Someone once told my brother that our grandfather had eventually had some success. And, indeed, an online search of the Internet Broadway Database revealed he had been a bit player in over 20 plays. He even had a small role in a movie.

The meaning of this quote seems clear. The implication is that one will live and die unhappy and unfulfilled if one does not let their song find voice. After having done so, I wonder if my grandfather would agree. I suspect not. The cost of self-expression proved way too high.


Dessert at the French Laundry

As wrong as it seems, the mundane has a way of intruding on the most extraordinary of experiences, even a romantic vacation in Paris. But because it was a vacation in Paris, even the mundane brought romance with it.

Clothes get dirty, even in Paris, and she’d put it off long enough. She decided that this morning was the time. Laundry bag in one hand and phrase book in the other, she rode the slow, gilded cage of the elevator down to the lobby of the tiny hotel in the Marais. The lobby looked like something out of a 60s remantic comedy starring Cary Grant. The velvet couches were just a touch shabby, the Aubusson carpet a bit thread worn.  At one end, a dapper-looking man worked behind the desk, which was made of a beautiful dark wood burnished by a lifetime of polish and use. Here and there, a nicely dressed Frenchman sat with a cafĂ© au lait, reading his Le Monde. It was all so very French and so very elegant, especially when compared to the plastic Holiday Inn lobby back home in Des Moines. She couldn’t help but feel just a little foolish as she headed to the desk clutching her bag of dirty clothes.


100 Word Challenge: Writ Large

Graffiti Writ Large 

Bitch!”  The ugly word hung on the wall of sudden silence like graffiti writ large. 

She hadn’t expected to see her ex at tonight’s New Year’s Eve party.  If she had, she doubted she’d have had the courage to come.  But after months spent meeting with her therapist and her lawyer, she felt the self-confidence he’d so casually destroyed returning.  The settlement was hammered out and the date in court behind her.  She finally felt like celebrating the future instead of mourning the past.

Holding her head high, she replied, “Bitch? You call me that like it’s a bad thing.”

Thanks, INKYGIRL.COM. I can totally relate.


Free Write Friday: Technology

I have already confessed to being a technology junkie. Today Velvet Verbosity has prompted me to question whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 

As I begin this exercise, I am caused to turn to technology over and over.  I do not have a timer, so I went to the calendar software on my computer and set its alarm for fifteen minutes.  I have never been a typist, so I would be in real trouble were it not for the spell check on my word processing software.  When the timer goes off, and I have used up my time allotment, I will clean this up and post it out there somewhere in cyberspace – and to think too much about that makes my brain cramp – where all of you can find it.  And then I will put a comment on VV, also out there somewhere, to give you an easy road map to the other somewhere the blog lives.  And none of this would have happened at all were it not for my ability to bumble about like a vagabond in cyberspace.  I wandered “out there” looking for people like me, people who had similar interests, and perhaps different takes on them.  And that led me to VV.

Good or bad?  Well, were it not for technology, I would have a world around me that was much smaller.  My wandering about would perhaps lead me to a reading group at the library, where some might be writers and most probably would not.  I might take a writing class at the community college, but I think finding a kindred soul there would be unlikely.  It is possible that over years, I would eventually find people like VV and all of you with whom to share this interest in putting words down on paper  (oh, wait, there’s no paper involved).  I would type this on a typewriter (oops, technology again) or put pen to paper.  There would be far fewer words laid down within the 15 minutes, and most likely they would have to be retyped or rewritten to correct the misspellings and sentence fragments and just plain tortured language.  Then I might put the finished product into an envelop and mail it to VV, but none of you would likely ever see it.

So far, for me, anyway, it’s all good to have this technology I enjoy. 

Has it somehow changed our minds?  Sure, no doubt.  But is that change bad?  Speaking for my mind only, I don’t think so.  My mind is no different (OK, yes, older and hopefully wiser) than it was in the 1970s, except that it has more daily “experiences” than were possible back then.  It “knows” more people, and has access to so many more points of view.

Am I addicted to my machines, and unable to think without them?   I don’t think so.  I still spend a good deal of quiet time just thinking.  I still read books the old fashioned way (though, that being said… as I write this, my husband is reading the morning newspaper on a Kindle).  I still enjoy actually facing human beings and having a conversation with them.  I still on occasion use a pen or pencil and paper.  I still capture the world around me in ways other than words on the computer, using my camera (oh, oh, it’s digital and the images residing on my computer rarely make it to paper.).

And, alas, my computer just told me, “times up!”  Bossy machine.

Post exercise note:  There was no way I could post this without cleaning it up first.  It was unintelligible.  I did not “edit” it, per se, but did run spell check to translate it into English.

After spell check, my cyper-person comes across here as reasonably well-groomed and  appropriately  dressed (never mind how I am really dressed; one of the other benefits of technology is the ability to write at home in my bathrobe!).  Before, it “looked” more like a disheveled and tattered ne’er-do-well from a foreign country.  Thank you, Technology, for making me presentable to go out in public.


Thoreau Thursday

Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.

This quote from Thoreau will no doubt draw varied interpretations, but I think Thoreau was channeling dogs. “Chew your favorite bone. Don’t steal the other guy’s bone. And be sure to save some for later.” Good advice. As dogs (and Thoreau) know, the simple things in life, like a good bone, are worth savoring.

Thoreau was a guy who liked simplicity, silence, and solitude. He would no doubt freak if he knew how complicated, noisy and crowded life had become. The poor man would not even have been able to find solace at his home on Walden Pond today. He would surely feel assaulted by the well over half a million people who visit his home site each year and buy “Simplify” signs at the gift shop.

Every day, we are too assaulted, by the noise and complexity visited upon us by technology. TV, radio, cell phones, pagers, computers, Twitter, Facebook, etc. -- all have crowded into our lives. Just think of that guy you saw on the street recently who had three or four little devices hanging off his belt.

In his book of 20 years ago, Information Anxiety, Richard Saul Wurman said that the average person in 1989 received more new information daily than someone living in the 14th century would in his entire lifetime. Imagine what that statistic would be today.

The number of cell phones in the US has risen from about 1 million in 1989 to nearly 300,000,000 today. The Internet, which just “celebrated” its 40th birthday, was just a kid 20 years ago. Nearly everyone has a computer, and many people have several. We’ve gone from a handful of available TV channels in 1989 to what has to be hundreds of channels today, thanks to cable and satellite feeds. Radio now comes at us in our homes, cars, and even on cell phones. Facebook recently claimed over 2 million registered users, with 1 million of them using Facebook at least once a day.

A technology assault indeed. Thoreau would be horrified. But not I.

I love technology.

I like the Internet. I like a lot!

I like the easy access to instant gratification for a nagging question with a forgotten answer. You know the one: the answer to this afternoon’s question that always comes in the middle of the night.

I like being able to do my holiday shopping from the comfort of my desk chair, rather than driving an hour from my home in West Nowhere to the nearest urban shopping area.

I like being able to back up my opinions in a debate with researched factoids. You can always find something to support your side.

I like having my cell phone (like that much-coveted Star Trek communications device) nearby at all times. I can reach out whenever I want to, and people can reach me. I think this is a vestige of my high school need for popularity, but I still like it.

I like being able to keep up with my entire family on Facebook. They are so busy with the noise in their own lives that they rarely call or visit. But they do find time for Facebook (which will surely be identified as a social addiction one of these days). Logging on to Facebook is like traveling through a portal (like that much-coveted Star Trek transporter) into their lives.

I like TV. This is an unpopular admission today, but hey, what can I say? I like it. A recent show on PBS about Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps mesmerized me. I like having that sort of entertainment right in my living room.

I like my satellite radio. I can boogie on down the road to the Beach Boys or Beethoven, though I am partial to the Beatles. Koo koo kachoo.

Sorry, Thoreau, but the complexity, “noise,” and companionship that technology brings make me happy. And as dogs also know, when you're happy, you should dance around and wag your entire body.

This is me dancing and wagging with abandon.


At Fifty-Three

Here I live at fifty three,
Already five years older than she
When life abandoned her,
And she abandoned me.

How odd: she seemed to me so old,
So sure, so strong, so smart, so bold.
Yet here I wait at fifty-three
For the she in me to unfold.