Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy, Happy New Year

Unlike my previous posts, this one is a real blog as it is something I'm writing off the cuff, so to speak. I decided that it was time to step out of the security of using some older articles to fill this space.

So here goes....

This was an unusual Christmas for the Miller family as we were not together with all our kids on Christmas Day. Some of us live 100 miles apart, with two others about 300 miles from us. One of our sons from Austin came to our place with his wife and two young girls. Then we all went to the Dallas area on Christmas Eve to share a meal with the other sibs and their families, then came back to have Santa with the girls here.

That was a high point of the Holiday for me. Christmas morning is made for little children who eagerly look forward to Santa coming. Of course, I was the first one up on Christmas and had to wait for the girls to wake up. I told them I was up early to feed the animals before we started and they actually believed me. I also told them that Santa took some hay out of my barn for his reindeer and they believed that, too. I love little children.

The rest of this week has been a blur. In addition to some lovely gifts, my husband and I got a cold for Christmas, so we have been sipping tea and sniffling and coughing together. Luckily, one of us has always managed to feel good enough to take care of the animals, although one day I just threw a half a bale of hay over the fence for the horse and goats and told them to have a ball until tomorrow.

I think we are finally on the mend. At least I am. But it doesn't look hopeful that we will be ringing in the New Year with any great fivolity here at the Miller house.

I will however, take some time to remember the many blessings we have received in the past year and be thankful for that.

This is probably the point where I should be writing something profound or philosophical, but the old brain is shutting down. So I'll just close with a sincere wish that everyone has a very good New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday Magic

Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or any of the other Winter Solstice holidays, the magic of the time transcends religious bounds, so I share with you one of my favorite Christmas articles. I wrote this when my children were young and chaos reigned at the Miller house.

Christmas is a time like no other in the lives of most people. From the wistful old lady who sits alone remembering Christmases past, to the starry-eyed kid who bounces around the house singing his own rendition of Silent Night, there is a place for each of us.

Sometimes for me, Christmas is the desperate race to get everything done in time. Every year I tell myself to start early. Make use of those lazy summer days to at least do the shopping, but somehow I don't often find my summer days all that lazy. Not to mention how hard it is to think "Christmas" when it's a hundred and five in the shade.

So invariably, I'll be running around the week before Christmas, trying to find something for Aunt Lucy and trying to balance the number of packages each of our kids will receive. (They will count them no matter how old they are.)
What bothers me most about last minute shopping isn't the mile long walk to get to the store from the parking lot. It isn't the lady who runs over my foot with her shopping cart. It isn't the clerk who can't possibly tell me where to find the ‘must have’ toy for this year. What bothers me most is wondering whether I'll make it through the check-out line before the kid I bought the tricycle for is ready for a car.

Sometimes I'd like to forget all about the Christmas Season and just spend two weeks in a rest home. Especially when the excitement starts to build in my kids, and I wish they'd just sit still and be quiet so I'd be more in the mood to be nice to them. It's hard to think kindly of a kid who's followed you around the house for a week reading his Christmas list.

Sometimes Christmas is the frustration of cookie crumbs mashed in the carpeting, candy canes stuck on the sofa cushions and the eighteen truckloads of trash strewn around the living room on Christmas morning. Sometimes it is a sense of futility as I wonder if we'll ever overcome our kids' basic selfishness and teach them the concept of giving as well as receiving. And sometimes it is a feeling of anxiety over whether we've maintained the proper balance between Santa Claus and Bethlehem.
But that's only sometimes.

Other times Christmas is a warm feeling of closeness when I share my daughter's wide-eyed wonder at the concept of Santa and all his magic. Or when I share my son's pride in the surprise he created for his dad out of a chaos of construction paper and glitter. Or when I share my daughter's satisfaction when she transforms our living room into a wonderland of tinsel and holly. Or when my other son asks me for the umpteenth time to get my guitar and play the Little Drummer Boy, and it reminds me mistily of another time, another place.

Somehow my dad could never refuse either.

And other times I think my heart will burst when I watch one of my kids spend their last dollar on a present for the brother I was sure they hated. Or when I find something totally impractical under the tree for me, and I look up to see my husband smiling in delight.

And other times I have a sense of awe when one of the kids wants to bake Jesus a Birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday. Other times I'm filled with an incredible sense of tenderness and love when I watch my oldest daughter set up the nativity scene and explain to the younger kids what happened that magical night two thousand years ago.

Yes indeed, CHRISTMAS IS a time like no other in my life!

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Since we’re getting so close to Christmas – only two more weeks for those of you like me who have barely started preparing – I was going to write something sweet and nostalgic for the Holiday. With all I have left to do, I may not get to blog again before December 25. But I just couldn’t let the absurdities in recent news pass without comment.

First there’s the New York law to ban trans fat in all restaurants. I suppose it’s commendable that the legislators care that much for the health of their constituents, but do we really want government to be telling us what to eat? My husband commented that pretty soon fat people will get arrested. And if you’re really obese, you get a life sentence. A joke? Maybe not.

Then there’s the flap over the Minnesota Democrat, Keith Ellison, who was elected to Congress. The flap isn’t over him being elected. Or even the fact that he’s the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress. It’s because he would like to take his oath of office on the Koran instead of the Christian Bible. Dennis Prager, a conservative talk-show host in California said, “American is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

Um, excuse me, Mr. Prager, but I am an American and I totally support Mr. Ellison’s desire to use the holy book that has the most meaning for him. And I don’t think I am one voice crying alone in the wilderness on this topic.

Mr. Prager also needs to study his history. He said having a Bible present at every installation of a public official is an unbroken tradition since George Washington.

Oops, in 1825, John Quincy Adams took the oath on a law book.

Another absurdity that probably has less social impact, to me falls into the category of superfluous. Sherry Jacobson, a Dallas Morning News columnist nominated Tony Romo for Texan of the year. The annual contest run by the News was established to honor someone who has made a significant contribution to the state and humanity.

I’m sorry, Tony. While it has been fun to watch you play and bring the Cowboys to so many recent wins, I really don’t think that puts you in the league with State District Court Judge Carole Clark of Tyler, who is trying to develop a new child welfare program for Texas that will not let so many kids fall through cracks.

And finally, there was a little blurb in the Dallas Morning News about Governor Rick Perry speaking out against the proposal to build a wall along the border between Texas and Mexico.

Was that the same Rick Perry who had that political ad a couple of months ago? The one that talked about how tough he was going to be on illegal immigration and how he supports the plan to beef up border protection by erecting a wall?

Most politicians who are going to renege on their campaign promises at least wait long enough for the general public to forget what they said.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Turkey Time

I know it's almost a week away, but I want to share this special Thanksgiving piece I wrote a few years ago. Those of us who wax nostalgic over holidays can't get enough of this stuff. :-)

There's an old Thanksgiving song that starts out, "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go..."

When I was a child, my Dad would break into that song as we crossed the Pennsylvania border into West Virginia on our annual pilgrimage to celebrate the Holiday with his family. "The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifting snow..."

The closer we got to his childhood home, the heavier his foot rested on the gas pedal as our Chevy station wagon climbed the hills on twisting roads and flew on the downside. His rich baritone voice belted the song, and in my imagination we were on that sleigh behind dapple grays in their rhythmic trot. I could hear the clump of their hooves and feel the blowing snow bite my cheeks as we were carried along.

It was magic, pure and simple. A magic that continued for the few days that we stayed in that 'otherworld.'

Today as those memories float pleasantly through my mind, I can almost smell the wonderful aromas of sage dressing, pumpkin pie, and mulled cider that permeated my grandmother's house. And I can hear the bustle of activity accompanied by short bursts of conversation among the women in the kitchen. The front bedroom is where the men gathered and brought out instruments. Their music became another soundtrack.

My brothers, sisters, and I would join other cousins in the back bedroom in between our numerous trips outside. Our biggest challenge was to see who could roll down the hill and retain the most amount of snow, turning ourselves into living snowpeople. The second biggest challenge was to see who would have the honor of receiving the drumsticks. They were doled out on a 'merit' system based loosely on which of us waited the most patiently for the great announcement, "Dinner's Ready."

In the early years of married life I found it a formidable task to create Thanksgiving Days that would live in a similar glory for my children.

We were living in Texas, so mountains and snow were out of the question, and my signing never could quite match my father's. I didn't possess even a tenth of the culinary skills of my grandmother and my aunts, so the meal would probably be lacking. And we were more than a thousand miles away from cousins to help distract my children from their impatience.

But despite those limits, we managed to muddle through. I did manage a passable dinner and my husband actually raved about the German dressing. The pies were a major hit, all ten of them, and everyone was willing to eat the broccoli for the promise of a second piece of pie. And after cheering the Dallas Cowboys to another victory, most years, we would all tumble outside for a family game of touch-football.

In sifting through all these random memories now, I realize that the memory itself is not what is important. What is, is the fact that we have memories and they don't happen by accident. No matter what we do to 'mark' these important occasions, it is vital that we do 'mark' them. Even if our process doesn't live up to a Martha Stewart image or our own fond remembrances of childhood.

So here's to our memories, no matter how we create them.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Shall we Vote

Don’t you just love elections and campaigns and politicians? Someone must think we do because the media is blasting us with news reports, opinions, and paid advertising that is somehow supposed to help us make a decision come next Tuesday. The problem is there is so much spin in politics these days it’s hard for the average voter to sift through and find the truth. Or anything even resembling the truth.

Here in Texas we have a jokester, a grandma, the incumbent Republican, a Democrat with high hopes, and a Libertarian who hasn’t a snowball’s chance of winning, vying for the top state office. When the campaign first started I decided I would vote for the candidate who refrained from making the election about how bad the other guy is and make it about what the people of Texas need in a state leader.

Oh, but I forgot. Politics is all about power and making sure your party has control of said power. Oops! I guess that leaves the people somewhere out in the cold. Hello. Here we are. Can you hear us?

Partisan politics is so entrenched in government that I don’t even remember all the good reasons the two-party system was developed. I remember I learned that in Civics a hundred years ago, but the last twenty years of campaigns has obscured all the positives and highlighted the negatives.

So here I am less than a week from Election Day, and I have no idea who is going to get a nod from me for governor of this great state of Texas. (Oops, those political ads just imprint on the brain sometimes.)

If I go by my original plan, I’d have to vote for the Libertarian. I don’t think he has said anything nasty about the other candidates. Actually, I don’t know what he has said because the man gets next to zero media coverage. Which is too bad, really. He might actually have something worth hearing.

My husband doesn’t vote. Hasn’t for years from when he got fed up with the status quo of political behavior. It’s awful tempting to follow his lead. Just leave the mess alone. But then I’ll be loosing sight of another lesson I learned in Civics lo those many years ago. We have a responsibility to vote, even when we are disillusioned and think the whole system is in the crapper. What would happen if we all decided not to vote?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Growing Older

Yikes. I did it. I applied for Social Security. Wasn’t it just last year that I helped my mother do that? Where have the last twenty years gone?

Getting older has never really bothered me. Some people obsess about turning forty, or fifty, or even sixty, and I can laugh at the “mourning” parties with black frosting on a cake and R.I.P. balloons, but it never really hit me in the gut until I stood in line at the SS administration office amidst all the white-haired ladies and realized I was one of them.

Not that my hair is white – just nicely streaked – and for the record, I am taking early retirement, so I’m not as old as you might be thinking.

I can remember my mother telling me some time ago that she will often pass a mirror and do a double take. “Who is that old lady in my house?” Now I know what she meant, and I’m sure you do, too. Inside we are still young and wrinkle free. In our minds we can still do a full day’s work and run a marathon in the evening. It’s the body that’s on the wrong page.

Last week I was talking to a friend who also has a horse and likes to ride. We were telling stories about our youthful adventures on horses. The wild ones we rode. The thrill of riding bareback at a full gallop. The satisfaction of staying on that one horse that liked to buck for the first five minutes under saddle. Now we both get nervous if our horse does a little jiggy dance and threatens to rear. Old bones are much more brittle than young bones.

Which brings up an interesting question. Should we stop activities that could be dangerous as we age? I know some people willingly take on a more sedentary lifestyle by choice. Others bow to the wishes of adult children who are rightfully concerned for safety.

However, I’d like to think we can find some balance between caution and staying active, even if some of the activities make our kids say, “You did what?”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

School Violence

Last week most of us probably watched the news, stunned at the horrible tragedy in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania where Carl Charles Roberts IV entered the Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 girls on October second. I know I couldn’t believe it, and the first thought I had was, “When is it ever going to end?”

When I first wrote my book about school violence in 1993, the research depressed me and I hoped that things would improve. Things had to improve. Children were killing each other, and certainly we could find ways to make the violence stop.

Unfortunately, not much changed, and instead of instances of one child being shot because he or she dissed another child, we had Columbine. The day that news broke, I cried. So many young innocent lives cut short. And I just couldn’t imagine what madness drove Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold into their school in Littleton, Colorado with an arsenal of guns and knives and compelled them to start shooting, killing twelve students and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves.

That tragedy spawned others and when it was time for more research for the third printing of my book, the statistics and stories were even more troubling. It was like some of the worst video games had stepped into reality and kids were playing with real lives.

People can argue all day long that they are just games and have no bearing on school violence, and I say that is a bunch of crap. People aren’t dreaming up these horrible acts of violence. The ideas have to come from somewhere. I’m not saying that a kid plays the game and says, “Wow, this is so much fun, I think I’ll go whack someone.” What I’m saying is the images of the games are planted in the brain and acted on later. A premise, by the way, that is shared by a lot of social scientists.

Of course the video games are not the only cause of violent behavior and probably had little to do with the recent school shootings that have been perpetrated by older men. And I certainly can’t begin to explain why that man in Pennsylvania decided shooting Amish girls was the solution to his emotional problems. Those social scientists are still trying to come up with an explanation for that.

Out of that latest tragedy, however, has come one bright ray of hope for mankind. The day after the shootings, the family members of the girls who were shot forgave Carl Charles Roberts IV. What a powerful testimonial, and one does not have to be Christian to get it.

One of the elements of forgiveness is not to wish evil on the person who wronged us. We don’t have to love that person or embrace that person, simply step back and let go of the need for revenge. That’s a pretty good lesson for all of us, and I sure wish those radical Muslims would get it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Women Rule

In a recent column that appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Georgie Anne Geyer proposed that women take over the leadership of the United Nations. She was writing in response to the exchange at the U.N. between the Iranian and American presidents who were “playing like spiteful boys in the great hall of the United Nations. They said everything to each other but, ‘Yeah, so’s your old lady!’”

She went on to say that having a woman at the helm of the United Nations just might bring it back to purpose and issue. When I read that, I had a weird sense of déjà vu. A friend and I had just been saying that women need to take over government and get us out of this mess we’re in. Could it be that we are all three on to something?

Not that this is a new thought for me. For years I have said that a mother who has taken care of a family and household for any length of time has acquired skills that would serve her well in tackling the issues that concern us.

A mother’s response to the enmity between the Pope and the Muslims – “The Pope apologized, so get over it already. I am so tired of listening to this bickering.”

A mother’s response to the government spending. – “Okay, here’s the deal. No more spending what we don’t have. I don’t care how much you think you need another bomber. You’re just going to have to wait until we have the money. And all you who just gave yourself a big fat raise. Well, give it back. You didn’t ask if there was enough in the budget for that, and you have no right to take it away from the rest of the family.”

A mother’s response to the immigration issue – “First of all, stop all the name-calling, or I swear you will spend the next year in your room. Secondly, this is not a political issue so stop trying to make it one. Now that everyone has taken a deep breath, let’s look at this rationally. We’re worried about the bullies coming over and wrecking havoc, yet we need some help so certain agricultural businesses don’t go belly-up. So why don’t we let Pedro come over to work legally and pay taxes and pay social security and then go back when the work is finished?”

A mother’s response to the ACLU – “Stop whining. Life is not fair, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t change that basic fact. So chill and stop wasting so much money on lawsuits.”

A mother’s response to government entitlements – “Entitlements? Who said you were entitled to anything? You earn what you get by hard work, and don’t even get me started about congressional retirement packages.”

A mother’s response to partisan politics – “Hello up there. You’re representing us, the people. Remember? When was the last time you voted for something because it was good for the country or good for the people, and not just because it was proposed by your party? And heaven forbid you should support a proposal from the other guy. Why, that might lead to cooperation. Down the road he might even have to consider one of your good ideas.”

By now I’m sure there are a few readers who are screaming through cyberspace, “Are you nuts?”

No. Naïve maybe. Idealistic maybe. But not nuts.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Effects of 9.11

Monday marked the 5th anniversary of the tragic events of 9.11. That day had such a profound effect on all of us; we don’t even need to specify the events. We remember it all simply as 9.11.

Many commentators have ventured that the world has not been the same, since 9.11, and that is true in many ways. That tragedy spawned new wars, greater security concerns for travelers, border issues between Mexico and the United States, and a new American political battleground for arguing which political party can keep the country safer.

But in many ways, nothing has changed.

We are still people driven by bigotry, emotions, and ignorance.

In Monday’s Dallas Morning News, a columnist who is a senior at a Plano high school shared what the “Defining Moment” of 9.11 meant to her. Alaa Al-Barghuthi recalled what it was like five years ago when she heard about the planes hitting the towers and her seventh grade class made patriotic bracelets. She wears the bracelet every year on the anniversary so she can remember, but she said she has no trouble remembering. The pain is still as raw today as it was five years ago. “And five years later, the ignorance is still there.”

She went on to say how a fellow journalist asked her if she celebrates September 11 as a holiday. He didn’t ask the question five years ago. He asked her the other day.

She wrote how she experienced a myriad of feelings … anger…hurt…disgust… and couldn’t even respond to the question. Then she ended up feeling sorry for him and feeling sorry for all the people who can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.

She also wrote that she hopes that not all Americans believe that all Muslims celebrate 9.11 because, “…it is telling all terrorists, all evildoers, all extremists that they have won.”

In conclusion, Alaa defined the enemy not as people but as the evils of hatred, extremism, blame, indifference and ignorance.

I’ll admit that right after 9.11 I lumped all folks who looked like Arabs together in one big pool marked “the enemy.” And I still don’t know how we are supposed to sift out the enemy from the thousands of peaceful Muslims. That is a question that plagues the people who are trying to keep us safe around the world. So maybe we still should be wary of the stranger in the airport, but couldn’t we be a little more open to finding out about the guy next door with the dark skin before we slap a label on him?

Thursday, August 31, 2006


I did it! For the first time in my life I read the sports page of the newspaper. "So what’s the big deal," you might want to ask. "It’s not like you’re blazing new trails here. Some women have been enjoying the latest in sports news for some time now. What took you so long?”

It would be easy to blame my lack of exposure on my husband. In the mornings, he’d rather know where the sports page is than his first cup of coffee. But I have to be real honest here - one can’t be too careful when it comes to lying to the public - it just never entered my mind that I could or should know any more about baseball than the names of the two teams playing for the Series win.

I grew up in an era during which certain distinctions between men and women were clearly defined. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the era or the distinction. Just stating the facts. It was a time when women knew where we were supposed to stand even if we didn't want to. Especially about sports.

Men were expected to be obsessed with sports. All kinds of sports. They played. They watched. They discussed. They read. They argued. They played some more. And during play-off seasons, they disappeared into black holes with TV screens, bean-dip and beer. Or at least they tried to.

Women, on the other hand, were expected to be obsessed with their husbands’ obsession with sports. Women were supposed to complain about all the hours spent on a field or in front of the television. They were to shake their heads woefully as Frank argued with the guy next door about which team had the best defense in the NFL. And women were NEVER, EVER, to touch the sports page in the newspaper.

It was sort of a twist on the idea that Real Men don’t eat quiche. Real Women don't read sports.

As a fairly malleable creature at the time, I didn’t fuss about all that. It was kind of fun to share "football widow” stories with my friends, and we could always find something else to do while the guys were whooping it up in front of the TV. But all that changed when we moved to Texas.

Suddenly, I didn’t have those friends to occupy my time on Sunday afternoon, and my husband needed someone to help him yell at the referee. The game just isn’t the same unless there’s another warm body throwing shoes at the screen and loudly suggesting an eye-exam for the idiot who couldn’t recognize pass interference when it jumped off the turf and bit him.

So I started watching football. And then I started liking football. Then I started loving football.
Not any old football, mind you. COWBOY FOOTBALL.

This, of course, was during the era of Superbowls, Roger the Dodger, and Hail Mary passes - what wasn't there to love?

But I still didn't read the sports page. And since I’m being perfectly honest here, I can't come up with a reason why. My husband was at that point, perfectly willing to share. I just automatically handed that section to him every morning and never bothered to pick it up when he was finished.

And I can’t really say that my recent break in tradition was predicated on one significant incident.

The lapse could be partially blamed on a serious case of boredom. I’d read everything else in the paper - even the business section – and one cannot finish breakfast without something to read. Or maybe it was the headline HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS.

Cowboy Fever has been known to do strange things.

Anyway, I let my eyes wander across a few lines here and there and I said to my dog, "Hey, this is good stuff."

The stories weren’t beyond my comprehension, as had been insinuated in the past. They weren't dull, or boring. In fact, they were quite interesting with some of the best writing I’d enjoyed in a long time. I felt like a kid who’d just discovered a new pile of sand.

It was a great, wonderful place to play for a while, and definitely worth going back to. I will, however, be kind to my husband and continue to let him have the shovel and pail first.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Who Did It?

On any number of occasions, mothers are faced with asking their kids a certain type of unanswerable question such as; who ate the last cookie and put the empty package back in the cabinet? Or who took the quarter off the counter? Or who wrote the dirty words on the wallpaper in the kitchen?

Getting a straight answer can prove to be more complicated and frustrating than trying to establish peace in the Mid-East. In fact, when my kids were young, I'd've tackled global peacekeeping any day over "Who took the gum out of my purse."

When I had to ask the "who did" question, my kids would react in one of two ways. Either they'd be stricken with some kind of mental dysfunction that rendered them speechless, or they'd cast about for someone they might possibly get away with blaming.

I think this is a talent that kids are born with that may hearken back to some instinct for survival and some are much better at it than others.

While I had a certain maternal pride in the abilities of my kids to find a 'scapegoat,' they had a long way to go to match the aplomb of a friend's three year-old. One day he'd been out playing with his older brother, and when he came back in my friend noticed a particular odor as he passed by.

As delicately as possible she asked, "Did you have an accident in your pants?"

"No. John did it."

Now that's quick thinking at its best.

In fact, this kid had such a reputation no one believed him. Not even when he insisted for an entire day that he had not eaten his older sister's candybar. "It was Mommy. I swear."

"Sure," the sister said. "Like Mom would really do that."

Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to admit to your six year-old that you needed a sudden chocolate fix and hers was the only candy in the house?

Luckily, my daughter never asked what happened to the last piece of candy from her first-grade Valentine's party.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Since the state of Texas is barely a blip in the wide world of the Internet, there are some people who might not be aware that we are having a serious drought here and are facing some scary prospects for a future water supply. But it’s true. My little patch of East Texas is shriveling up, and when my horse walks across the pasture, so much dust billows up I’m reminded of pictures of the terrible Dustbowl.

It’s not just here, though. The entire state is dryer than normal, with the exception of El Paso that had flooding recently, and many cities and counties have severe water restrictions.

Meanwhile, the richest people in the Dallas area are pumping millions of gallons of water on lawns and landscaping. The hay farmers have no crops this year, but Harlan Crow has seven acres of beautiful lawn. According to a story in The Dallas Morning News, Harlan Crow uses 1.8 million gallons of water a month. That’s equivalent to the total usage for 217 homes in Dallas based on an average of 8,300 gallons a month per house.

And the cost of the water that Mr. Crow is pouring on his expansive lawn? $5,859. Yikes! That’s more than twice our monthly budget. Just because money is not an issue for that family, is that a justification for such incredible waste? And remember, it’s not just an issue of wasting money.

An editorial in the same issue of The Dallas Morning News addressed the concerns over the drought and the long-term outlook for water availability in Texas. It was pretty bleak.

If the drought continues, the major lakes serving the Dallas Metroplex will have no water source by 2007. (Anyone who has driven past Lake Lavon can attest to that. It’s not a lake. It’s a puddle.) In the next four years Texas will need a 20% increase in water sources to meet the estimated growth. The editorial writer also cited a prediction that by the year 2060, the demand for water in Texas will rise by 27%, while supplies decrease by 18%. If that gap does not close, 85% of Texans will lack sufficient water.

Many of us won’t be around by then, and some people use that fact to justify ravaging the earth’s natural resources today. I’m going to have that Hummer and I don’t care how much gas it guzzles. I can afford it. Turn off my car when I go into the store? Heaven forbid I should come out to a hot car. Let my lawn go dry so we have enough water to drink next year? Naw, someone else will come up with a solution to the problem, so I don’t have to concern myself with it.

Well, folks, here’s the deal. If we don’t concern ourselves, we’re leaving a terrible future for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Sometimes I wonder if there will even be a world for them if more people don’t get into a conservation frame of mind. There are so many ways we can save energy and water and not have to sacrifice greatly to do it.

It just means we have to think beyond the moment and our immediate wants and decide what we can live without. Maybe we don’t really need seven acres of lush grass just to look at. Maybe we can trim five minutes off our daily shower. Maybe we can drive a more fuel efficient car. Maybe we can skip one non-essential trip to the store or the mall.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to take my horse to Mr. Crow's yard to graze.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


In all honesty, most of us will have to admit to being overcome with childish fits of temper at one time or another in our lives. Whether it be frequently, occasionally, or twice a day, we have all given in to the urge to throw something across the room and watch it smash into a million pieces.

Although we all fall prey to this type of behavior, it really takes a big person to admit it, and that being the case, I'm going to tell you what this friend of ours once did.

(I certainly wouldn't want to destroy my image by letting you know some of the things I've done.)

This friend, who shall remain nameless, got mad at his telephone one day. He was so mad that just slamming the receiver back in place was not enough to satisfy the primal urge, so he ripped it off the wall.

Then he threw it down on the floor and jumped on it a few times.

Then he kicked it around a bit, kind of stirring up the little pieces.

Then he picked up all the pieces and put them in a brown paper bag before he went to the neighbor's house to call the telephone company. This was back in the days when the phone companies still owned the actual instruments and he was calling to report that his was broken. It was also back in the days before cell phones.

The girl in the service department told him she would have someone check the lines and get back to him.

"You don't understand," my friend said. "There's no trouble on the lines. My telephone is broken."

"Sir, do you mean the instrument itself is broken?"


"If you could be more specific, the repairman can bring the appropriate replacement parts."

"Trust me. He really needs to bring a whole new unit."

At this point, I would have skipped town and let someone else greet the repairman, but this friend is given to great shows of bravery in addition to his terrific temper tantrums. He acted as if it were nothing out of the ordinary to hand a repairman a bag of junk that used to be a telephone and tell him that a Mack truck ran over it.

Pretty good trick for a wall phone, but the repairman didn't even ask.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Road Rage

Sometimes I wonder if there's a new element in the air making people crazy. I especially wonder when I find myself fighting an urge to do something stupid while I'm driving, like drag a car that's trying to pass me. (By the way, I lost. A Pontiac Vibe, even a very nice Pontiac Vibe, is no match for a Datsun 280-Z.)

That type of behavior is totally out of character for me as I am normally a very mild-mannered person. Some of my friends even call me Maryann Milquetoast.

But I'm beginning to understand Road Rage.

I get it when I'm tooling along the Interstate with my cruise set about seven above the posted speed limit. Then I glance in my rear-view mirror to see the grill of pickup truck bearing down on me like some wild beast straight out of Japanese animation.

Why does he wait until he's crawling up my bumper to pass? We're on a flat stretch of road for Pete's sake. He could clearly see my car while he was still a half a mile back; plenty of space and time to move over. But, no, he's got to practically crawl into my trunk just to let me know what he thinks of my lollygaging.

Road Rage also threatens when I get stuck in a construction area where two lanes are siphoned into one. Nobody likes the idea of a delay, but most folks simply sigh and get in line. But some folks think they don't have to. Despite the signs that have warned for a mile that the right lane is closed ahead, drivers zoom up to the flashing arrow and inch their way into the bottleneck.

Of course, they don't consider themselves a primary cause of the bottleneck. Hey, they've got places to go and people to see, and they're just making sure they get to their places faster than anyone else. Too bad for the fools who all dutifully lined up in the left lane.

As they force their way into the line, careful not to make eye contact, do they really think we don't know what they're thinking?

Years ago when I had a big Chevy van, I liked to straddle the line between the two lanes to prevent cars from slipping around me. I'd seen a Semi driver do this once and thought it was a nifty idea, but an eighteen-wheeler is a lot more imposing than a van.

I still had people try to squeeze past and we'd do this weird little road-dance familiar to racing fans who've watched drivers maneuver to keep a car from passing on the straight-away.

Keeping all the cars behind me did wonders for my blood pressure. I could feel it subsiding from near stroke level with every little giggle of delight. And I didn't even mind that the success had less to do with driving skill and more to do with the fact that I was driving a vehicle that wouldn't even notice another dent.

Of course, this isn't something I could try now. People no longer vent their frustration with severe pounding on their steering wheels. Now they pull a Colt 45.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Taking a Break

My son called recently to tell us that his wife had gone to visit relatives for a few days and had taken their baby. So he was alone in the house - except for the dogs - for the first time since baby's arrival in their lives.

He sounded a little wistful as he talked about missing the normal routine of feeding, bathing, and entertaining their little girl. Without his family at the house, he didn't know what to do when he came home from work, so he threw the ball for the dogs, but that diversion only lasted a few minutes. They are old and play time is very brief now.

But he also sounded - did he dare even say the word - free. He mentioned going out with a friend the night before and having a beer, also mentioning that he couldn't remember the last time he'd done that. Then in case we misunderstood the thrill in his voice, he quickly clarified that he's not entertaining thoughts of abandoning family responsibilities for nights out with the boys. It just felt good to revisit his carefree youth when he didn't have to worry about who might be worrying if he didn't come home at a reasonable hour.

I understood completely. When my husband traveled for business, I occasionally welcomed a brief respite from all that it means to have another person to defer to. If I didn't feel like cooking a regular meal, I could get by with soup and sandwiches for the kids. That was definitely not my husband's idea of a meal. I could read in bed at night for as long as I wanted without worrying whether my light was bothering him. And I could soak in the tub until I turned into a prune without holding up anybody's shower.

That didn't mean I didn't love my husband and enjoy his company. It was just nice to be alone now and then. And when I was finally able to say that to him, he admitted that those short business trips were like a vacation for him, too. He could actually watch an entire television program without some kid bounding through the room in hot pursuit of the brother who punched him for no reason.

I actually think those brief 'vacations' from regular family life can strengthen a relationship. When my husband returned from a trip were thrilled to be together again. Now he could fix all the things that broke while he was gone and I could practice my cooking again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who's Taking Care of Us?

They’re suing the Colonel? When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a suit against Kentucky Fried Chicken because the company still fries chicken in oil that has trans fat in it. I guess the CSPI has concluded that we are not smart enough to decide for ourselves if we want to take the health risks of eating our Extra Crispy drumstick now and then.

Since the folks at CSPI are so concerned about my health, I decided I should check them out. According to their Web site, “CSPI is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.”

The Web site also lists their mission statement which is comprised of three main goals:

To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;

To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial, and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and

To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.”

All very noble ideals, but I don’t remember them asking if I wanted them to represent my interests, and nobody in my family recalls hearing from them either. And why should we be so concerned about trans fat now when the CSPI wasn’t concerned about it in 1988. That’s when the organization pressured McDonald’s to stop using beef tallow to cook french fries and basically dismissed the dangers of using hydrogenated cooking oil that contained trans fat.

So why is it suddenly so bad for us? In moderation, I don’t think it is, and if you do a Google search of Trans Fat, you find many Web sites that state all the dangers of ingesting the stuff, but there are some that hold a different view. For one:

It’s no wonder that consumers are baffled when it comes to what is harmful and what is beneficial to our health. Scientists can’t even agree, and every other year some study refutes what another study proved.

What I would like to know is what happened to common sense in this frenzy of studies and litigation and media hype. Unless you’ve lived on a desert island somewhere, you’re aware of the problems of obesity and poor nutrition that are swiftly outpacing smoking as a major health issues in the United States. We now know that we should not subside on a diet of fast food – especially of the fried variety – and we need to eat more fruits and veggies. Think of it as a tasty alternative to medicine. Would you rather take a pill to control your cholesterol or take a walk and eat an apple?

Okay, maybe some of you would prefer the pill. That’s your choice. But if organizations like CSPI continue to try to regulate the food industry through litigation, or pressure to the FDA to step in, we won’t have choices any more.

So maybe we should start taking more responsibility about these health issues before we lose all control. I am really going to be pissed if someone outlaws Funnel Cakes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Writer's Workspace

When we built our house a number of years ago, the spare bedroom was delegated to be my home office where I would write the novel that would enable my husband to retire and live off my royalties. I’m not sure if the agreement stemmed from some magnanimous gesture on his part, or if he was just sick and tired of my creativity cluttering up the rest of the house. This new room was the place where my typewriter, along with other bits and pieces of sewing or craft projects would reside. It was to be a true segregation of life essentials and creative essentials.

Initially, the system worked well. I maintained my right to my creative room through thick and thin and the advent of the twins. We bought bunk-beds and stacked kids in the corners of one bedroom so I wouldn’t have to give up my precious space.

But over the next few years, I found the lines between ‘life’ and ‘creative’ dimming. Space in the kids’ bedrooms became so scarce that more and more of their clothes and toys found their way to my study. And every time we had a houseguest, our oldest daughter would sleep on the sofa-bed.

One day I discovered that I had one kid’s pajamas in one of the desk drawers with the first chapter of my novel. Her socks were in the middle drawer with my pencils, paper clips, and used typewriter ribbons. Her training pants were piled in a corner on top of a stack of jigsaw puzzles that wouldn’t fit in the closet.

During an extended visit by my mother, our eldest moved into my study for several weeks. That was not a fun time. I enjoyed my mother immensely, but sharing space with an incredibly messy twelve-year-old girl was not my idea of a good time.

She shared my creative bent, so there was no telling what kind of painting project I might have to dodge to wend my way to my desk. Assuming I could actually find it under the mountain of discarded clothes tossed in the general direction of the hamper next to the desk.

During those times of ‘invasion’ I could also forget any impulse for late night writing. Which, by the way, was usually the only opportunity for uninterrupted creativity, unless I fell asleep.

What I find absolutely amazing as I look back on those years of chaos, is that I actually managed to get a great deal of writing done.

The other thing that amazes me, is that not all that much has changed. Despite all my efforts to be neat and organized, my current office is often as messy as that old one. And I don’t have any kids to blame.

I know. I'll blame it on the cats.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


At age ten I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest, watched wisps of clouds drift across the blue expanse of sky, and relived every precious moment of the story.
“I’d love to do this,” I said.
“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.
“Write stories. Books.”
I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then lets do it. We’ll be famous.”
Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.
We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to Wayne State University in Detroit, a creative oasis inhabited by artists, dancers, musicians, and writers When I visited her, we’d put together some ‘appropriate’ outfits and join a party where people loudly debated the merits of Joyce in one room and read original poetry in another. We were both so naïve, we had no idea that the blue haze hanging over these rooms was not from the incense.
What I didn’t know then and took me too many years to learn. was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. No publisher was ever going to be there to ‘discover’ me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Underwood manual.
Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.
But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there's luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again, and learning how to ‘sell’ yourself.
We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the ‘business’ of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.
I may never be ‘famous’ as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and while away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.
And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


As we all know, writers are by nature very insecure people, especially in the early years when perhaps the only thing we get published is a letter to the editor and that’s cut from four paragraphs to three lines. In fact, for years basic insecurity was the only thing I had to affirm my credibility as a writer.

But even in my moment of greatest anxiety, I never reached the heights (or should I say the depths) of insecurity as did Glenda Gibberish. She wrote an entire book on squares of toilet tissue and hid each page in an empty roll. When her husband, Harry, asked about all the cardboard cylinders lining the dresser, Glenda told him she was making toys for the gerbils. That worked well until he decided to take an interest in the welfare of the pets. She lost one whole chapter in a single afternoon.

Realizing that would never do, Glenda resorted to stuffing the rolls in her underwear drawer, in the empty cookie jar, and in the springs of the old sofa bed. She figured she was safe since she put her own clothes away and nobody ever bothered with the cookie jar since she never baked. But she forgot about her mother-in-law’s visit. Oddly enough, the other woman said nothing when they unfolded the bed, but Harry gave her one of those looks that we women enjoy so much. Then he surprised the gerbils with new toys.

This ruse went on for years and she couldn’t bring herself to tell a soul that she was writing. Then one day she was hit with this overwhelming urge to “out” herself. It was the same compulsion that drives a dieter to a banana split at Dairy Queen and try as she might Glenda couldn’t shake it. So she had lunch with her best friend.

“Oh, no. Is it serious?”

“Not right now, but it could be.”

“How long... I mean, have you been this way forever?”

“Since I was a little girl. But, you know. It isn’t the kind of thing you just drop into casual conversation.”

“Good. Maybe we can keep it from getting around.”

“Don’t worry. I have plenty of editors looking out for me on that count.”

“Have you told Harry yet?”

“No. But he did wonder about the sudden demise of Jake the gerbil. I think he choked on a particularly graphic sex scene.”


“No. The gerbil.”

“How have you managed to keep it from Harry?”

“Right now, I tell him I’m going into the closet to straighten up a few things. But that’s not going to last long. Sooner or later he’s going to remember that I don’t like to straighten anything.”

“Don’t worry. You can trust me with your secret.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you told a few people. My book comes out next month and I need the publicity.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Pretty little flowers all in a row.

Not that year.

That year a few scraggly weeds lived in the spots usually reserved for the pansies that thrived early in the Texas growing season. Normally, when the sun burned too hot, the pansies would be replaced with petunias, then later with periwinkles. Those hardy little flowers can thumb their noses at the worst heat thrown at them.

Attending to this ritual of planting has always been an important part of my existence. Some days I’d rather be out digging in the dirt than doing almost anything else. The process feeds me deep inside in a way that defies articulation. But those who share this passion understand.
When it was time to plant the pansies that year, I was in the hospital after a complicated kidney surgery. The weeks recuperating at home ate up the rest of early spring when cool nights and mild days nurtured the ‘people’ flowers and let them smile to greet a new day.

My heart ached when I was strong enough to walk out to the front porch and sit on the swing. The empty flower beds looked so lost and forgotten, and I yearned to dig my hands into the dirt. I thought of asking my husband to plant something, just a geranium or two for a splash of color, but resisted the urge on two counts. He had enough to do with taking care of the kids, the house, and his job. Plus, it wasn’t the flowers I missed so much as the process. I could wait a few more weeks and still have plenty of growing season left. It lasts forever in Texas.

Petunia season came and went, and still the flowerbeds stood empty.

I’d had a bit of a set-back in my recovery. Some nerves had been damaged during the hours-long surgery and the pain was still incredibly severe. That forced another trip to the hospital to see if anything could be done.

By the time I got home again, we were well into periwinkle season and my flowerbeds had grown lush with weeds. My instinct was to lean forward in the swing and pluck out a clump of clover, but the look from my husband, rich with unsaid words, stilled the impulse.

I’m sure he meant well. Like so many spouses standing on the outside he felt so helpless in the face of my pain and limitations. He only wanted to protect me. But my heart yearned to be digging in the dirt. It was a deep and powerful ache that wouldn’t go away.

During my next visit to the doctor, I asked if he thought it would be okay to do a bit of gardening. “I’ll be careful,” I said. “And I just feel this great need.”

The man could have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting as he sat on his little black stool with one finger tapping his cheek. Then he spoke. “Personally, I think there’s something very healing about dirt. Although I don’t recommend eating it.”

He paused to acknowledge the smile with timing so perfect he could’ve been on the comedy circuit. “But I do recommend filling your hands with it. Smell it. Work it. Let it fall through your fingers. It won’t cure you, but it won’t hurt, either. And maybe it will make you feel better where it matters.”

Several hours later I knelt on the grass. I ignored the pain that ran down my side and into my leg and leaned close to the dirt. The trowel felt good in my hand as I loosened a small section of the flowerbed. Then I picked up clumps of earth and crumbled them, letting the rich black dirt stream through my fingers. I reveled in the cool dampness; the pungent aroma. Then I dug a hole big enough to hold the single Marigold.

“Ah,” my heart said. “Just what you needed."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


My very first publishing success was a weekly column that I did for a local newspaper in a suburb of Dallas. It was a humorous look at family life and at the time I had plenty of family to draw material from; five kids, two dogs, a couple of hamsters, and a husband thrown into the mix somewhere.

When the original column started, the one thing I didn't expect was notoriety. I wasn't used to being recognized in the grocery store, unless it was by the cashier who remembered me coming through her line with two grocery carts full of baby food; and usually the only adult I talked to in the park was myself.

With the exception of a few close friends and neighbors, I also didn't expect to have many fans. (Is insecurity a prerequisite to being a writer?) So it was quite a pleasant surprise when people stopped me in the store, or came up to me at the soccer field to say how much they enjoyed reading the column. It would also prove to be embarrassing on the occasions I just ran out to get something at the last minute and wore my ten-year-old cutoffs and a stained tee-shirt. That was proper attire for a hard-working Mom, but hardly fit being a celebrity.

Family reactions to my new-found fame varied. I, of course, was thrilled. When the cover story and first column appeared I found it very difficult to bring myself to perform such mundane things as fixing supper, washing dishes, and bathing kids. I kept telling myself that certainly a 'famous writer' should not have to stoop so low, but alas, I couldn't get my kids to see the logic in my reasoning. For some strange reason they thought they still had to eat, so in the newspaper I was a 'famous writer' and in the kitchen, I was still the 'maid.'

Our two oldest kids seemed to be thrilled to see their names in the articles, unless I delved into something they weren't ready to share with the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Then they'd run home from school and demand to know how I could be so cruel.

Our six-year-old seemed a little vague about the concept. How did what I typed in my study get into the paper? And why was the newspaper printing it? (I told him not to knock a good thing. At least I was getting paid.)

He also wanted to know what the title, IT'S NOT ALL GRAVY, meant. "We don't have gravy hardly ever."

"That's what I mean."

He still didn't get it.

My husband's reaction was a mixture of pride and endless teasing. He'd always supported my quest for publication and when the endless stream of rejection slips threatened to overcome me, he'd always tell me to hang in. Someday it would happen.

But he couldn't, and still can't, resist the occasional dig. Sometimes he comes into my office to inquire whether he can interrupt the famous author at work. Depending on what he wants, I might accept the interruption. Cooking dinner is not even on the list of things I'll stop for, but there are other offers well worth the break.