Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time For New Beginnings



Now is the time to throw out the old and ring in the new. The natural response to the beginning of a New Year is usually optimistic and goal-centered. This is when we do some personal housecleaning, getting excited about resolutions that will make us better parents, better employees, better people, and maybe even thin again.

Innumerable resolutions have been made over the course of history, and I've often wondered where they end up when they aren't kept. Is there a "resolution junkyard" somewhere littered with all those promises we made with zeal and determination on Jan. 1, and forgot by Jan. 10?

The basic problem with me and resolutions is that most of the time I'm just too tough on myself. I've set unattainable goals in a quest for perfection that is simply not in my realm of capabilities. So, in an attempt to defray frustration, I start making minor, reasonable
adjustments to my resolutions ...

Instead of giving up fattening desserts, I'm going to give up caviar and Chateaubriand.

Instead of organizing my office, I'm going to learn to live with my own efficiency plan -- "leave everything where I know I can find it."

Instead of learning to be a gourmet cook, I'll order my take-out food from Chef Tell.

Instead of cutting down on the amount of time I spend reading, I'll take 10 minutes of every hour and walk around the house with my book so I get some exercise.

Instead of trying to be a perfect Mom, I'll just let my kids think what they want of me....

... and the list goes on.

But under the jokes we can make about the annual tradition of New Year's resolutions, there is something good and wholesome about the concept of fresh starts and new beginnings. It fills us with a sense of hopefulness and positive power. We are strong. We're invincible.

Well, maybe that's going too far. . .

But seriously, we all need the renewal of spirit and hope the celebration of the whole holiday season brings us. For Christians it starts with the Advent preparation with its theme of eager anticipation. It's punctuated dramatically with the fulfillment of promises on Christmas Day, giving us new life in the birth of Jesus. And it culminates in the atmosphere of exciting possibilities for growth and change presented to us in the New Year.

Even though I know I'm the world's worst resolution-keeper, each year I always feel energized as I contemplate all that can be accomplished with the time stretching before me. I welcome the opportunity to set new goals, or resurrect old goals with a renewed
conviction that this year I can do better.

So here's to all our resolutions. May none of them end up in the junkyard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Post Holiday Blues

Apparently a lot of people are in a bit of a funk following the hustle and bustle of Christmas. At least that is what a number of pundits are saying.

I wasn’t feeling particularly blue until I read some recent columns where all the reasons why I should be were pointed out to me. The economy still sucks. Wars rage on. Our political system is in the toilet. Government spending is out of control. The U.S. is declining in power….

Need I go on?

Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer says, “Well, let’s just wait a little minute. The problem is not so much that we are in decline, but that we are in decomposition. The country doesn’t hold together because we don’t hold together; we see everything in terms of only ourselves.

“Every working country needs citizens at certain crucial levels to accept leadership and not parse every demand with the imperial “me”. Otherwise a country becomes ungovernable because no leader can impose decisions.”

If it wouldn’t make it so hard to read, I would put that all in caps and shout it to the nation.

Every problem we face as a nation is related to self -service and greed, and nothing is going to change until enough people start changing. We can’t expect the world around us to cater to our every need and insure that all things will be fair and equal. We have to be mindful of the community, city, state, country, world we live in. What is in the best interests of all mankind?

I would be PC and write ‘humankind’ but being PC is one of our problems. People aren’t listening to what others are saying, they listen to how it is said to make sure nobody is being offended by the wordage and miss the point entirely.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After the Fun


In keeping with the Holiday season, here is another excerpt from A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Enjoy.....


The day after Christmas was usually one of the best and one of the worst days of the year for our family. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'm not sure it does to me either. But let me try to explain.

It was the best because:

There were now 364 more shopping days until Christmas.

It was the one day of the year when perhaps the kids were just as tired as we were, and they’d sleep off and on all day.

All the build up for the Big Day was finally over, and the noise level in the house had dropped about 20 decibels.

I didn’t have to cook since we had all those leftovers from Christmas dinner. (If we didn't have a big Christmas dinner, I was in trouble on that score.)

The kids would decide they liked each other after all, and we could go the whole day without a fight – maybe.

The kids would invite me to color with them, or play a game, and we could share some really good times together - as long as they let me win now and then.

But every coin has its flip side, and the other side of this day was:

After the glitter and tinsel of Christmas, after the giving and receiving, the celebrating, singing and eating, we could all sit back, unbutton the waistband of our pants and try to decide who would clean up the mess.

Who would get to spend the next four days sorting through the thousand-and-one little pieces of games, toys, and puzzles that in less than one day managed to get tossed together from one end of the house to another?

On Christmas day, nobody seemed to care, but the day after nobody was being nice anymore, and the house was filled with moaning and wailing and the sounds of blood-letting and bones breaking ...

"Find that Stratego piece or I'll break your arm off and beat you over the head with it!"

"I never touched your Stratego game! Mommeee!!"

I guess four days out of my life wasn't too much to ask.

Who would dig through the 22 bags of trash to find the instructions for assembling the model airplane, because, for once in his life, a kid cleaned up after himself and threw them away with the wrapping paper? (Since that same kid would think nothing of digging through the neighbors' trash to see if they threw away anything he could put to good use, maybe I could pawn that job off on him. )

Who would accept the challenge of figuring out what to do with all the unidentifiable things we received as gifts, such as the strange looking thing from Aunt Mildred that could either be a doily or a dishrag.

The gadget from Uncle Willie that favors a Chinese puzzle, but could actually be his eccentric approach to the can opener.

The game that takes an IQ of at least 300 just to open the box.

The funny little knitted things from Aunt Lucy that are either thumb-less mittens or toe warmers.

I could have called them all personally to thank them for the gifts, and hope that somewhere in the conversation they will mention what they are. But that would have taken some of the fun out of lazy summer afternoons when we’d drag this stuff out again and play a new game called “What on Earth is It?”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Wishes


At this time of celebrating winter Holidays, I want to wish everyone the happiest of times with family and friends, and all the best for the New Year. I celebrate Christmas, and our cat, John, has decided he wants to be a Christmas present. Either that, or he is waiting to see what Santa is bringing him.


The following is an excerpt from my new book A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Please accept it as a small gift to you.



The Christmas Season was always a source of great excitement at our house. It was also a time of great panic. Every year I found the Christmas Season closing in fast with me panting to cross the finish line before Santa Claus.


I’d immediately start my “Holiday Hustle” working non-stop for three weeks to get everything done. There were gifts to send out of state, and cards to mail. Since I didn’t start early enough on that task, I had to decide if I would write one let­ter and copy it for all our friends, or try to find the time to write individual letters. This was before the birth of The Holiday Letter, which has now become a standard way for friends to stay in touch. Some people don’t like them, but, you know, if the alternative means not keeping up with friends, I’m all for it.


Maybe instead of getting angry at the stores that were putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween, I should have taken their reminder seriously. Then I wouldn't have let Thanksgiving slip by without a thought of the next holiday.


My basic problem was, and still is, the fact that I don't get in the Christmas spirit until a couple of weeks before The Day, and then the frantic juggling act begins. If I could just bring myself to think about Christmas in October I wouldn't be faced with the necessity of regimenting my time down to the last second to get everything done -- structure and discipline being the closest thing to medieval torture I can think of.


However, I knew that I must have some structure, so sometimes I made a calendar with Things to Do. Monday was slotted for shopping. No giving in to the urge to sing carols with the kids or start making decorations. Friday was slotted for singing, and decorating would start the following week. Tuesday was the day to finish the Christmas cards. No fair claiming writer's cramp as an excuse to quit for a while and play with the dog.


Wednesday of that week started out easy. That was the day to write my column, and I didn’t have to stress over what I would write about as I had all this great material to work from. But the strangest thing happened as I wrote about all the things I hadn’t done yet. I had to fight the urge to quit working and dash out to the store when I thought of the perfect gift to get Uncle Barney. Not to mention all the other things I’d forgotten on Monday.


While fighting down that urge, another distraction popped up. The Girl Scout caroling party. I still hadn't called the leader to tell her what songs I'd planned for the girls.


Then I remembered someone else I should have mailed a card to.


Then I remembered I was supposed to get soda for a neighborhood holiday party.


I don’t even remember the rest of that week.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give the Gift of Generosity

Several of my writer friends have shared special holiday essays with me, and here is another one from a regular contributor to WinnsboroToday.com Imelda Tatsch is the Program Director at the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center (NETCAC) located in Winnsboro, and her "Caring For Kids" columns also appear in their bi-monthly newsletter. In "Caring for Kids" she offers support, insight, and a touch of humor for parents and grandparents. Enjoy....

Christmas is HERE! We just finished off the last of the turkey leftovers and here we are just days from the big day….Where time goes I do not know, but it sure seems to be going there faster every year.

This year we have rarely heard any good news on television or read anything hopeful in the newspapers. With all that being said, I would expect very little in the way of help for those in need. This is certainly not the case here in Northeast Texas. At least not that I have seen in recent weeks.

If you are a regular reader of these articles, you know that I work at the Child Advocacy Center. Each year we see several hundred children from the eight counties we serve. The children have possibly suffered either severe physical or sexual abuse, or may have witnessed a violent crime. Abuse is no respecter of age, gender, or social class. Many of our families are put in desperate situations due to the obvious interruptions to life when something like abuse takes place. The entire family is affected.

This can take a toll on the finances of an already struggling family. To ease some of this stress during the Christmas season, we offer our Angel Tree Program to the families of children that have been through the center during the year. Families are given the opportunity to place their children on the angel tree and while many decline the offer, many more feel the need to accept. This offer is not limited to only the child or children that come through the center but for their siblings as well. Our angel tree list includes families of one child to often as many as seven or more. This is where my favorite word for the month comes into play…. GENEROSITY!!!!

In a time when we only hear of the negative economic conditions, we have been extremely blessed by an outpouring of love for these children.

We know that the economy has brought several to the edge of desperation. The need is there and just as the need has risen, so have those with the heart of love. They feel such gratefulness for their own blessings that they have shared with generosity beyond measure. Because of this many children will have something for Christmas this year. Those caring for these children; parents’ grand parents or other extended family members are very grateful. They often tell us that without what they receive from the Angel Tree Program the children would have nothing at all. We are forever grateful to all of you who have opened your hearts to our little angels this year.

I realize this space is allotted to me to write something more specific to parenting or raising children. So, this is my two cents worth of advice for this month! If you are so blessed to have your children with you and your family, though you may struggle at times is functioning and remains “intact” then you are greatly blessed. Share that blessing with others and teach your children to be generous. This does not have to cost you a dime. Be GENEROUS with your time, your words of kindness, and a friendly smile. A few years ago someone started a challenge to counter the reports of “random acts of violence” with “random acts of kindness”.

Maybe we can revive this practice.

If children really are our future, what kind of future do we want? They will only know from what we teach them…Their eyes are always on you, so when you think of what kind of person you want your child to be, look in the mirror, do you see that person? Children learn what they live and as you know they don’t always do what you tell them but they will do what you teach them through your actions.

**************

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Holiday Traditions from Mexico


The piece I wrote for Sandra Sookoo's blog the other day prompted some readers to share some of their holiday traditions. My friend, Helen Burlingham, has graciously given me permission to post some of her memories of holiday traditions in Mexico. Enjoy....


One of the Christmas customs in Mexico, which I think originated in Spain and has become modernized, is the Posada. The word "posada" means house or dwelling and the ritual refers to Mary and Josephs request for a dwelling where Mary could give birth to Jesus.

Posadas begin on December 16 and continue right up to Christmas eve. There is a traditional scripted ritual that is followed. There are two teams. One reciting lines that represent the various innkeepers or homes and the other portraying Mary and Joseph.

Within a home, or on the patio of a home, the innkeepers line up and the Mary/Joseph team go from one to the other and ask for shelter. They are refused until the end, when the innkeeper says they can stay in his stable.

After the final shelter is given and the child is born, there is happiness and celebration, usually with a pinata (even for adults) And, food, drink, music and dancing.

In modern times, many Posadas are merely company Christmas parties without the traditional rituals, but in the small towns they are still done with the litanies. I believe people in Mexico still wait until December 16 for the first one to take place.

One year when I taught at Pan-Am University in the Rio Grande Valley, we had a faculty Posada at the home of a Mexican-American Teaching Assistant. The ritual was in Spanish.What I remember most were the pina coladas afterward that got an older faculty wife a little tipsy. She did not know the drink contained alcohol and was just enjoying the sweet taste. Nobody pushed a second drink on her but the snickers were many.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Holiday Traditions


The piece I wrote for Sandra Sookoo's blog the other day prompted some readers to share some of their holiday traditions. One lady, Helen Burlingham, a good friend and fellow writer graciously allowed me to share some of her remembrances here. Enjoy....

Maryann--

I, too, remember different ways to celebrate. Though I was born in Michigan (Saginaw) I grew up in New Jersey but with some of your traditions. My father bought our tree on Christmas eve and as very young children we did not help decorate. In later years my brother and I did help but it was still the night before.

We did not celebrate January 6th the way you described, but when i lived in Mexico as an adult, I discovered it was THE most important day there. In my husband Carlos' home, there was always a skimpy pine cut from a nearby mountain side until later years when they brought nicer ones from Mexico City or his youngest brother went to higher mountain areas to cut a fuller tree. For many years there were no presents until January 6th.

I was the first daughter-in-law, and as each of Carlos' brothers married and began families, we still came together in Tehuantepec for Christmas and Santa Claus did make an appearance on Christmas day. The gifts were placed around the tree in the chapel.

Those were the years that we drove from New Jersey to southern Mexico, with one overnight stop in McAllen, Texas. The car was loaded with gifts for everyone, including the servants of the house. I remember one year we hid a puppy under a pillow as we crossed the border. That dog lived at the family ranch for many years.

Christmas Eve we had a dinner after midnight mass that included turkey and mole. (A chocolate sauce pronounced mo-lay) The first years, the turkeys were very skinny local birds, so we started picking one up when we stopped in McAllen. That way we had one that was really big and full. The year my mother went with us, she made traditional stuffing. She also made a raised dough coffee ring that was a big hit. My sister-in-law, who was only about 12 that year, cut some pieces of the coffee ring and hid them in the old dining room cabinet so she would have some the next day.

As the years marched on, we continued to go to Mexico for Christmas before my mother-in-law died, but we started flying down with fewer gifts to carry as some of the families had other obligations. Even with the introduction of Santa Claus, January 6th was still important in Mexico, but most children received their presents on December 25th.

In Mexico, Christmas time was when village artisans sold the terracotta figures that at one time were the gifts received on January 6th. Some of the gifts were Tops and a toy called a balero, which is a small hollowed out gourd with a handle and a ball on a string that one threw up and caught in the gourd or carved cup. Maybe a small piece of clothing would be included, but no-one expected much even in the families like Carlos' that had more means.

The first Christmases I spent there was in the early 50s so I was able to experience some of the earlier traditions. One of those was a special procession to place the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve. As young children, my daughter, Kim, and her cousin Lucy took turns each year carrying in the baby Jesus to lay in the nacimiento that was set up in the chapel. They were followed by the even younger children, and afterwards horchata and cookies.were served. Horchata is rice ground on a mecate, with sugar, cinnamon, and milk added.

I enjoyed those Holidays in Mexico, and we still try to follow some of the old traditions, but it becomes harder each year.

Helen Burlingham

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging at Friend's Blog

Today I have a post up on Sandra Sookoo's blog Believing is Seeing. She is running a special series leading up to Christmas featuring different authors with different stories about the Holidays.

At the blog today I wrote about Christmas traditions and how different they are in different parts of the country. When I moved to Texas from Michigan, I was in for big surprise.

If you have time hop over to her blog and visit often in the next ten days. She has a lot of fun topics lines up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is this World Coming To?

I was going to try to focus on fun topics for the next week or so leading up to the holidays, but recent news items are just begging for a rant. Actually not a rant, just an expression of dismay and perhaps a discussion about the absurdities of human nature, which is one of the reasons I write this blog. I think we all need to express our frustration with some of mankind or we might explode from trying to hold it all in.

One of the stories I read today was about a south Texas couple who put an aborted 7-month-old fetus in a gift box under a Christmas tree after they were unable to flush the remains down a toilet. The couple has been charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. Police believe the woman used pills to induce an abortion last week, then called an ambulance after she began bleeding and told doctors she didn't know where the fetus was.

This is so absurd, I don't even know what to say. What were they thinking? Or were they even thinking?

A story I read yesterday also made me shake my head in disbelief. Apparently some parents in Detroit are so unhappy about the students there doing poorly on standardized tests that they want the teachers and administrators to go to jail.

That's right. Jail.

After release of a report showing fourth and eighth-grade students with the lowest math scores in the nation, Sharlonda Buckman of the Detroit Parent Network is reportedly pushing for prison time and civil lawsuits against teachers and officials in the school district who are not doing enough to educate the city's youth. She is reported to have said that someone needs to go to jail for this and it shouldn't be the kids.

I agree that educators need to be held accountable for their work, but this is a bit extreme, don't you think? Especially since the educator is only one third of a whole that makes for successful learning. The other two-thirds are parents and the student. And they all need to work together in harmony, not be setting up adversarial positions on something so vitally important as education.

And if any authority or court acts on this absurd request, I will really lose all hope in humanity.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Shopping


Here are rules for shopping from my friend, Tracy. Enjoy.....

The Five Christmas shopping ‘Rules of Engagement’


Christmas is creeping up on us again, and that means it’s time to brave the wild indoor shopping centers and outlet malls with the hope of getting some serious Christmas shopping done without being crushed to death in Aisle No. 9 during a Blue Light Special. But do you think I’m worried? Nosirree! I’ve got a plan, and as long as I stick to it, I will not die!

My plan is to do all my shopping on Christmas Eve, hitting the stores with military-like precision: attack, attack, attack, take no prisoners, and don’t charge anything until you see the whites of their eyes. And I believe in “attacking at dawn,” when there’s little resistance because nobody else is stupid enough to get up that early just to go shopping.

Yes, I believe the best time for shopping maneuvers at the local Mega Store is when there are only four people in the building – me, Barbara at the cash register, and the two stock boys in the back who always seem to be asleep. At any other time, those two would follow me around, making me “hit the dirt” every time they lob a bag of potato chips or toilet paper over my head. But, even that’s preferable to being surrounded by a horde of mothers, their screaming children and Zombie-like Husbands.

Beware – Zombie Men are everywhere! They gather at supermarkets and malls this time of year, and, given half a chance, they will suck the life right out of you.

Zombie Men are easy to spot: They hunch over their shopping carts, their eyes downcast in order to avoid eye contact with strangers. Their feet shuffle as they walk, and if you listen closely, you can hear them mumble things like, “Yes dear,” and “Whatever you say, dear,” and “I don’t give a rip, dear,” and “I mean, they look fresh to me, dear.”

Zombie Men used to be regular guys – men who went to the feed store, who tore apart engines for fun, who always had venison in the freezer. But somewhere along the way, they started pushing shopping carts for their wives – wives who are always agitated, jittery, looking for the best bargain, picking up this can of soup, comparing it with that can of soup, finally putting both cans of soup in the cart, telling her Zombie Husband to speed up, slow down, grab that box of cake mix, “No! Not that one! The store brand because it's cheaper.”

“Yes, dear. Whatever you say, dear.”

Sometimes when the Zombie Men accidentally look up, I see in their faces a wish for me to put a bullet right between their eyes, just to end their suffering. But I have to look away. There is nothing I can do for them. When I go shopping, I leave my pistol at home.

So, to make sure that I never have to endure crowds, bargain-hunting wives, yelling children, and Zombie Men, I adhere to the following Five Christmas Shopping “Rules of Engagement.” If you can benefit from it, fine. If not, don’t blame me:

1. Make a list of items you need to procure (military term that means “acquire”). Do not leave your Fort without a list. To do so, and be stuck trying to decide between the George Forman Grill or a baby Rat Terrier, would mean certain “death by indecision.”

2. Before you make your list, scout out (another military term that means “reconnoiter”) what size your honey wears, because to buy a 20 when she really needs a 10 means certain “death by fuming.”

3. With list in hand, attack at dawn, or as soon as the front door is open. If the store is having a “50 Percent Off Everything Starting at Dawn” sale, then Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!.

4. Once safely inside the store, quickly commandeer a cart. If someone else is using it at the time – well, spoils of war. With acquired cart, head to the ADM (Area of Desired Merchandise), probe the area, acquire your target, lock and load your cart, then head to the extraction zone (somewhere around Cashier No. 4) making no contact with the general population.

5. The only time you can breathe a sigh of relief is when you are safely out of the Combat Zone and back at your Fort. Count your acquisitions (a military word for “booty” which is a pirate word for “loot”), then conceal it under the bed or some other safe place that nobody would dare clean for fear of “death by dust.”

And that my friends is the key to safe holiday shopping. I wish you the best of luck. Remember, if you follow the rules, you WILL survive!

--------

Or you can avoid all that entirely and buy a nice book online for a gift. I happen to know someone who could even sign one for the person on your gift list. :-)

-------
Tracy Farr is a teacher living in East Texas who drives a school bus for the fun of it. In his spare time he plays the banjo, but never on Thursdays. You can read more of his stories at www.stinkycreektexas.com.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two More of my Books

I finally got around to adding covers for two of my other books to the side bar here on the blog. Hate to admit out loud that it took me a long time to figure out how to add items. You would think that someone who maintains a huge Web site WinnsboroToday.com would find all this other Web stuff a breeze, but each site has its own programming and idiosyncrasies.

Anyway, for those of you who may not be familiar with these other two book, let me give you a quick introduction.

Friends Forever is a young adult novel for middle school readers, that I originally wrote when one of my daughters faced the sudden social changes that happens as kids leave grade school and move on. Friends who used to be friends are often pulled apart.

BLURB: Friendship is a tenuous thing when you are thirteen and everything in your life is changing, especially your best friend. Terrified that she will lose Laura to the influence of Angie who is rich, beautiful, and the most popular girl in school, Debbie Webly will do almost anything to hang on to Laura. When her efforts backfire, Debbie finds out that true friendship is based on much more than looks or popularity.

Play It Again, Sam, is also based on real experience of husbands walking away from long-time marriages out of discontent. It happened to a good friend of mine who allowed me to tell her story.

BLURB:

When her husband comes home from work one day to announce that he’s moving out, Samantha Rutgers thinks it’s a joke. She hopes it’s a joke. But he packs a suitcase and walks out, leaving her in emotional devastation. She thought their marriage was just fine. Their life was just fine. What happened?

After twenty-five years as a corporate wife, raising the children and making a comfortable home for the family, Sam feels ill equipped to build a new life. She also feels ill equipped to face being a single woman in a whole new dating culture.

With the help of long-time friend, Margaret, Sam takes a new path in life. She goes back to college to pursue the art degree she’d put on hold. She gets a job with an advertising firm. And she meets Frank Reynolds who invites her to take that first step into new love.

Click on the covers to read more about the books if you are interested.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thinking About Government

In light of the huge national debate on health care reform, I found a statement by Neal Boorz in his 2008 address to the graduates of Texas A&M University thought provoking. To put it in context, it was the part of his speech where he talked about individual rights as opposed to group rights. He said that Liberals care more about group rights and are driven by a group mentality, and Conservatives think more about the individual rights.

According to his assessment, it is the Liberal mindset that pushes for more government programs and assistance, which is a driving force supporting issues like health care reform.

This is part of what Boorz had to say in that noteworthy speech:

"So, here I am saying negative things to you about government. Well, be clear on this: It is not wrong to distrust government. It is not wrong to fear government. In certain cases it is not even wrong to despise government for government is inherently evil. Yes ... a necessary evil, but dangerous nonetheless... somewhat like a drug. Just as a drug that in the proper dosage can save your life, an overdose of government can be fatal."

As the recent Tea Parties have indicated, more and more people in the United States are feeling the effects of a government overdose, and the powers in Washington have become like some huge monster that is so out of control that nobody can figure out how to rein it in. The deficit is growing by giant steps. Federal interference in states' business is on the increase. "Pork" spending and lobbying is burning up millions of dollars. And politicians are so busy being politicians, they forget the job they were sent to Washington to do.

Insurmountable problems?

No.

Revise the campaign system so there is only six months for campaigning before an election. Period. Get rid of lobbyists and don't allow campaign donations over $1,000 from a business or corporation. Send single issue bills through the House and Senate without any "add ons."

Streamline government. I mean, really streamline the administration of offices and agencies. What jobs are vital for running the country, and what jobs are just there for show? Get rid of the IRS as it now works. The agency costs millions to operate and if the taxation process was simplified we could pare down the deficit in just a few years. Flat tax anyone?

And MOST IMPORTANTLY -- pardon the shout, but you can tell I feel strongly about this -- stop spending more than we have and giving IOU's to the Chinese.

Whew, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

What about you? Any suggestions as to how to unsnarl the horrible mess in Washington? Or do you not think it is a horrible mess? I'm open to opposing opinions. That's what makes for a good discussion.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Man's Brutality Against Man

I just read this brief news item, and I had to pause to take a moment to absorb it all:

Proposed legislation would impose the death penalty for some gay Ugandans, and their family and friends could face up to seven years in jail if they fail to report them to authorities. Even landlords could be imprisoned for renting to homosexuals.

Gay rights activists say the bill, which has prompted growing international opposition, promotes hatred and could set back efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. They believe the bill is part of a continentwide backlash because Africa's gay community is becoming more vocal.



Can you imagine what it must be like for those people living in Uganda? No matter what your personal or moral view on homosexuality is, nobody should have to die because they are gay. And for a government to enact such a law is despicable.

The idealist in me always wishes that we will have no more Holocausts, or Indian Wars, or Crusades, where millions of people were killed because of race or religion, but I guess that is never going to be. Some dark side of humanity seems to raise it's ugly head and bring another atrocity to another group of people.

What do you think? Will the madness ever end?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor



I wonder. Is there ever a time when a tragic event stops eliciting strong emotions and becomes just another historical footnote? If so, how long does that take?

It seems to me that the urgency that used to surround remembering Pearl Harbor has eased somewhat in recent years. Perhaps because so many of the people who actually witnessed it area gone and that strong emotional connection is weakening.

In the not too distant future most of the people who were alive when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor will be dead, and then the remembering will be done by people of my age group, who were born just as the war was ending. Pearl Harbor touched us only in the stories told to us by our fathers and our grandfathers, and I'll admit that the story did not affect me as deeply as the memory affected my father and my grandfather.

The full impact of what happened on December 7, 1941 didn't hit me until I visited the memorial in Pearl Harbor when we took a trip to Hawaii. Actually seeing the place, standing where the Arizona still lies beneath the water, and watching people drop flower petals on the water made it real. Even our daughter, yet another generation removed from the reality, was deeply touched. We stood there, arm and arm, and wept.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Third Annual Production of "Scrooge"


This weekend our local production of "Scrooge" opens. In fact, tonight is opening night, and I am thrilled.

Thrilled that the weeks of rehearsals and preparations are over. This year I was assistant director, and play the role of Auntie and the Narrator. My plan was to just play a very small role, but we all know what happens to plans.

Thrilled that we finally get to relax and "play" on the stage. Magic happens when the work is done and we just become the people in this new story.

And doubly thrilled because we are doing an adaptation that I wrote. There is something so exciting about our work coming alive on stage or screen, and I have been really blessed to have an outlet for my work here in East Texas at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts.

Not long after I first moved here, we did a production of my play, "There is a Time", a drama about four women in a cancer support group. It had tender, touching moments, as well as some really funny moments, and death was personified on stage.

I wasn't sure how this East Texas community would take to something like that. They usually prefer the fun shows like "Scrooge" and comedies. But audiences really loved the show, and the players did such an incredible job bringing the story to life.

Opening night, I stood in the back and tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the audience respond to the players and the story. Later, I realized that was the most exciting moment of my professional career.

So, what about you? What has been the most exciting moment of your professional career?

Keep in mind that I am separating personal and professional. For me, they will always be separate as nothing professional will ever touch the awesome feelings I have for my family.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another Sports Idol Bites the Dust

I kept hoping it wasn't true. Even as the early reports of liaisons between Tiger Woods and "other" women first surfaced last week, I kept wishing it would all turn out to be false. I don't care a whit about golf, but I have always liked and admired Tiger since he blasted onto the Pro Golf scene in 1996 and was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated Magazine.

Tiger seemed to epitomize all that I found noteworthy in a celebrity athlete: integrity, humility, character, loyalty to family, and loyalty to fans. Characteristics that I did not see in other star athletes I refer to as "bad-boy" players.

Today that image crumbled.

Today, Tiger Woods apologized for letting his family down as more women were romantically linked to the married golfer.

In a written statement Woods, 33, said, “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings.”

Sound familiar? Does every man who is caught with his zipper down have the same publicist to write the apology statement?

There are those who will forgive Tiger and support him in his professional and personal life, and on one level that is good. People need forgiveness, and life does need to go on. But we should no longer hold Tiger Woods up as an example for young people to emulate, and he should suffer some serious consequences for his transgressions.

Otherwise, the message is, "Mess up and if you are caught, just apologize nicely and everything will be okay."

I think we need to start sending a different message.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I Love Texas But....


I'll admit I love the great state of Texas. I love the beauty of the varied countryside and the great expanse of sky that hosts the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I love the whole mystique of good guys like Sam Houston and bad guys like Bonnie and Clyde. And I love cowboys and farmers and ranchers who go to town on Saturday morning to have breakfast at the local diner.

But I do not like the absurd Texas Education system.

First off, they have this method of assessing the schools -- Texas Accountability Rating System -- that has less to do with learning than with statistics: How many students have dropped out? How many students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests? How many students are enrolled in AP classes? And one of the most important, how many students are passing?

To deal with that last issue, school districts began forcing teachers to assign a minimum grade to failing students regardless of their classwork and test scores. When the policy was first started, supporters said that it was good for the students. It would give them a better chance of improving the grade by the end of semester and the end of the year. That would in turn improve the self-esteem of the students and create a more successful learning environment.

Right.

What it did was help schools meet those statistical requirements.

There was enough protests from teachers, administrators, and parents, that a new state law was recently enacted that prohibits school districts from using this policy. A student is not to be given a grade of 50, if the work only reflects a grade of 30. Makes sense. A realistic grading system teaches students consequences as well as issuing a challenge.

I remember when one of our sons received a less than stellar grade in math the first semester of his senior year. If he did not bring the grade up to passing in the next six weeks, he wouldn't graduate. The teacher did not offer to give him a sympathy grade. My husband and I did not beg the school to bail our son out. We told him he would bring the grade up or else. And he knew what the "or else" would entail.

The latest installment of this silly school saga is that a number of school districts in and around Houston have filed suit challenging this new law. They claim that minimum-grade policies are good for students. "Minimum grading policies ensure that a student still may gain credit for a course as a whole and in turn continue progressing towards graduation...minimum grading policies for report cards are a key tool for keeping students in school."

Statistics anyone?

Monday, November 30, 2009

More Fun From Tracy Farr

What would I do without my friend Tracy when I am stuck for a blog topic. Plus, he can be a lot funnier than I am....


And now it’s time for my annual post-Turkey Day apology

Dear Mother-in-law:

I’m so sorry I ruined your Thanksgiving dinner this year. I thought you knew that I hate being put on the spot, trying to express what I’m thankful for in front of a room full of other people. But please believe me when I say I had absolutely no intention of saying, “I’m thankful for not living any closer to my in-laws.” You’ve got to believe me that it was just nerves.

I know this might be hard to imagine, but between the time I knew it was my turn, and the moment I opened my mouth to speak, the following thoughts flashed through my itty-bitty brain:

I could say, “I’m really thankful for my goats not escaping this week, and so are you, because if they had, we would have brought something else instead of the chicken casserole.”

No, wait a minute, I can’t mention “goats” and “casserole” in the same sentence. We’re just about to eat, and if I do, some of them won’t. Okay, how about this:

“I’m thankful that the turkey did not become our national emblem like Benjamin Franklin wanted. Can you imagine heating up leftover bald eagle for supper tomorrow? It’d probably be a little tough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it tasted just like chicken.”

Okay, maybe not that either. Let’s try to stay away from mentioning food.

“I’m thankful that our little town voted ‘No’ against the local sale of beer and wine, because that means if I want a brewsky, I have to drive to the next little town, but before I get there, I always forget why I was going there in the first place, so I just fill up my car with gas, keep heading west and hope I remember what I went out to get by the time I get to where I was supposed to be going in the first place.

But I never do, so I stop off at the Bass Pro Shop to look for fishing lures, because I’ve realized that I’ve become an old man who doesn’t own a stinking-huge tackle box full of lures, and just the thought of that actually made me cry the other day. So I need to start doing something about it before I’m dead and gone, because if I don’t, it’ll be too late, and then I won’t care.”

Well, that’s a bit long isn’t it? Besides, I can’t admit that I don’t own a tackle box. What would the father-in-law say? What would the brother-in-law say? They would look down upon me with more scorn than they already do, even with it being Thanksgiving. Nope, no mention of tackle boxes today. So how about coming up with something short and sweet like:

“I’m thankful for Thanksgiving!”

You’ve got to be kidding! Everybody else will be spilling their guts about how thankful they are for family, and health, and good times, and friends – and you’re going to be thankful for Thanksgiving? How pathetic.

I know, I’ll say something completely “off the wall.” They’ll know I’m joking, it’ll break the ice a little bit, and everything will be peachy-keen! But what? But what? Oh, but what?

So, all those ideas went through my brain right before I opened my mouth to say, “I’m thankful for not living any closer to my in-laws.” And when I saw all those jaws drop open in shock, and then didn’t hear one bit of laughter, and then felt this sharp pain in my side from the fork your daughter was stabbing me with, I thought: “Oops!”

Dear Mother-in-law: I’m thankful that you’re such an understanding mother-in-law and that over the years you’ve always forgiven the foolish things that I have said and done. If you’ll forgive me just one more time, I promise I’ll never come to your house again, I’ll never invite you over to mine, and I will never talk bad about you in front of the children. So, how about it? Do we have a deal?

(CLARIFICATION: The above essay is a work of fiction. I have an absolutely wonderful mother-in-law who will not be offended in the least that I’ve made her the butt of my joke in a story that hopefully she’ll NEVER know about or read – which would be something I could truly be thankful for.)

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Tracy Farr is a teacher living in East Texas who drives a school bus for the fun of it. In his spare time he plays the banjo, but never on Thursdays. You can read more of his stories at www.stinkycreektexas.com.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Today is the day! Millions of shoppers -- at least stores hope millions of shoppers -- will show up to start their Holiday shopping frenzy.

Not me. I have never done that, and I don't intend to start now.

There is no way I am getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning, before the sun is even up, to go shopping. I don't like shopping under normal circumstances, so it's not a huge surprise that I would never participate in this annual "shop til you drop" extravaganza.

In watching some recent commercial promoting the event, I've had to laugh at the women featured in the ads. They are waiting for a 3am opening of a store, and they are all dressed to the nines, as us old fogeys are fond of saying -- nice clothes, jewelry, make up, and bright cheerful smiles.

If I am awake at 2:30 in the morning, it's a cinch I won't be wearing a cheerful smile, bright or otherwise. I'll be in my flannel pjs and quietly cursing the cat who decided he HAD to go outside and yowled his request at the top of his lungs.

On this black Friday, we will be visiting with family, probably playing cards and eating leftover turkey, and loving every minute of it. And I don't even have to worry about the cat waking me up. We are leaving him home in the care of a friend.

What about you? Will you be out fighting the throngs of shoppers?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving


For all of my American readers, I send out a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your day is blessed by the love of family, good food, and all the things that make lasting memories.

The following is another excerpt from the memoir I am writing:



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 dolled out on a 'merit' system based loosely on which of us waited the most patiently for the great announcement, "Dinner's Ready."

With memories like that, it was hard for me to face the formidable task of creating Thanksgiving Days that would live in glory for my children.

We were living in Texas, so mountains and snow were out of the question, and my singing 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 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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Family Fun

Another excerpt from my book in progress: A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Enjoy....

On a recent visit with my grandchildren, I noticed a pattern of behavior that is apparently passed from generation to generation like the balding gene. My oldest granddaughter had been given a chore to do, as was her younger brother, and she spent more time policing him than folding the clothes.

Watching the push-pull between them, I was instantly transported back to when the same kinds of scenes played out between my children.

If I told Anjanette to empty the dishwasher, she would feel this compulsion to hound David to take care of the trash. Then if I'd tell David to clean up his room, he'd waste more time trying to recruit Michael's help than he actually spent in his room.

And I can remember being so frustrated when I'd tell one kid to do something, then hear him in the other room telling the other kids, "Mom told us to clean up the den."

Usually I tried to rise above some infantile level of response, but sometimes their behavior was contagious. I'd run into the den screaming, "I did not!"

Another common occurrence was for one of the kids to rush through his job and instead of making sure it was done right, he'd run to check on the other guy. Then he'd come to me with a smug expression to report that so-and-so didn't clean the bathroom right. He was crushed when my response was, "Well, you didn't do such a hot job in the kitchen, either."

I'm sure he expected nothing less than the total annihilation of that brother.

According to psychologists, this behavior is very normal among family members, and it does carry some fancy label. But we mothers recognize it as "pecking order." If you pay real close attention, it goes from older to younger much more often than from younger to older. And I've always felt a little sorry for the youngest in a family. There's no one left to "peck" on.

My grandson solved that problem by ordering the dog around for a while. It did seem to give him some satisfaction to "make" Arthur pick up his ball, and I wonder what kids do if they don't have a pet?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More on the New Mammogram Guidelines

There is a great discussion of the new guidelines for breast cancer screening over at the blog "Riding With the Top Down". Kathleen Eagle shared her views on the subject and a lot of women have added theirs. It is worth the read, but I was disappointed that she included a picture of a woman at a mammo machine. The cartoon is cute, and worth the time to go see it and chuckle, but the picture could go.

Regardless of my personal opinion about too much female skin being shown, this is an important issue, and I hope insurance companies and medical professionals are listening to what women are saying.

One of the problems with blanket guidelines or rules is that once they are in place, nobody can think outside that box. So if insurance companies decide to change their payment plans based on these new guidelines, it will create problems.

For instance, if a woman is at high risk for breast cancer but is only 40, she is a higher priority for screening than another 40 year old woman with no risk factors. But some lackey at the insurance company cannot authorize payment for the test for the first lady because of the "rule". So will that woman have to pay for the test herself? Is that even feasible considering the cost?

And I'm still wondering why medical science cannot come up with a better way to screen women for breast cancer. There are blood tests now for many types of cancer, why not this one?

If you want to read Kathleen's blog here is the link.

Riding With The Top Down: Kathleen's Talking Boobs. Seriously.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Is it just me.....

...or are there other women out there that wish the media would stop showing pictures of women getting mammograms any time there is a story about breast cancer?

Last Saturday The Dallas Morning News had a story about the controversy over the new guidelines for when women should start having mammograms and how often the procedure should be repeated. That was the lead story, above the fold, with a large picture of a half naked woman about to have the test.

That was what greeted me with my morning coffee. The night before on the evening news, I got to see a different woman about to get her test, as I have every evening since the screening debate started this past week.

As kind of a side note, I think the media is making way too much of the "to test or not to test" issue. Numerous "experts" say that women are now confused as to whether they should have the test. What women? Ladies, are you confused? I'm not.

But my point today is why do we always have to see a woman in the midst of the test on every news broadcast. Surely there are ways to talk about breast cancer screening without showing half-naked women about to get a part of their body smashed in a machine. The media talks about prostate cancer screening without showing a man getting..... well, you get the picture.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre



Maryann: Please join me in welcoming guest blogger, LK Hunsaker.

Hi Maryann! It’s great to be here to talk with you and your readers today. Since your blog focuses on the absurdities of life, I thought I’d talk about Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre.

I’m a big fan of mainstream/literary fiction: those authors who delve deeply into the grittiness of life – John Irving, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Joyce Carol Oates. They don’t pull punches. They write what they’ve seen in some manner. And they write about some of the biggest societal issues of their individual times. They’re social historians.

On the other hand, I’m a romantic at heart. I like happy endings. I enjoy exploring what makes us choose one mate over another and what holds us together or drives us apart. When you mix those genres, there are bound to be crossed lines.

Up to now, my novels blended the two without much line-crossing. Finishing Touches can nearly be called a sweet romance, although I push it just far enough to call it sensual. Its biggest line-cross is that there is only one POV – the heroine’s. Otherwise, the story reads quickly and deals with loss and personal exploration, but mainly with relationship building. It ends happily. My Rehearsal series is fairly light, although each one gets heavier as the characters grow up, and includes both heroine and hero POV, plus the antagonist’s viewpoint. Its biggest line-cross is the length: each book is quite long.

My most recent, Off The Moon, is a true boundary pusher. It is still romance, with the necessary “girl-meets-boy, separation of some kind, happy together ending” story line. However, unlike most contemporary romance heroines, Kaitlyn is not strong, independent, and sure of what she wants. (Or is she?) She’s very quiet. Ryan often has to try to figure out what she means from her cryptic words. She’s also very young for a romance heroine. This is part of the story conflict that leads to the mainstream approach of exploring cultural issues. How is age of consent determined? Who decides when it’s proper and when it’s not? Where does that line between right and wrong meet and cross? In current society where so many of our teens are having children while they still are children, this issue is foremost in many minds. Why are they starting so young? Is it hurting them? What are they looking for?

The story is gritty. It deals with loss and abuse and trust issues. There are references to casual sexual relations, although none is shown more than a hint. Mental care issues come in to play, as does health care and single parenting.

As I was writing the story, I was often in a quandary about where it was headed. I allow my characters to go where they need to go, to tell their story as they need to tell it. This one took a very deep turn as Ryan’s voice pervaded and I kept stopping to think, “Oh, but romance readers won’t expect that, or possibly appreciate it.”

Still, his voice wouldn’t silence. Neither would Kaitlyn’s. They had things to say and it had to be said true to their stories.

Kaitlyn has a lot of trauma in her past by the time she meets Ryan. There were times I thought I’d pushed it too far, had given her too much to deal with. And then I would catch bits of the news, real events I had trouble believing would actually happen. Life is absurd, indeed. Fiction might need to make more sense than life in some ways, but it should also reflect it.

Did I push the boundaries of romance fiction too far while merging with mainstream this time? For those who want light and quick, probably. It’s not a quick read. It includes not only scenes necessary for the plot, but also Ryan’s musings about the plot issues. For those who enjoy very deep, full characters with full backgrounds and family histories, I think it isn’t too far across the line. Boundary pushing readers will understand. Maybe they’ll even see themselves here and there.

It does have a happy ending, as will all of my novels. Even if life doesn’t always.

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Buy Link for Off the Moon preorders:

free US shipping through Nov. 27, discounted outside US

Off The Moon website:

Also, be sure to check my BLOG for novel-related features. I have an interview with NYC drummer Gino Scalmato up, as well as an interview with singer/songwriter Vicki Blankenship. More to come! http:


Off The Moon
LK Hunsaker

"Riveting" Ryan Reynauld is immersed in a world of music, parties, and temporary companionship. Having risen to the top of the pop charts, his biggest concern is objecting to the way his music is produced. That is, until he finds a young woman standing on a window ledge. Against the advice of family and friends, and through media attacks and fan protests, Ryan determines to care for her himself, making a promise that threatens to destroy his career.

Convincing the skittish girl she can learn to trust again comes with a steep price. Sometimes the path to recovery begins by allowing your world to implode.

Elucidate Publishing
November 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Guest Author LK Hunsaker Tomorrow


I hope you will come back tomorrow when my guest author, LK Hunsaker, blogs about Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre LK is doing a blog tour to introduce readers to her latest book, Off the Moon: a literary romance that will be released November 27th.

"Riveting" Ryan Reynauld is immersed in a world of music, parties, and temporary companionship. Having risen to the top of the pop charts, his biggest concern is objecting to the way his music is produced. That is, until he finds a young woman standing on a window ledge. Against the advice of family and friends, and through media attacks and fan protests, Ryan determines to care for her himself, making a promise that threatens to destroy his career.

Convincing the skittish girl she can learn to trust again comes with a steep price. Sometimes the path to recovery begins by allowing your world to implode.


LK Hunsaker holds a psychology degree from University of Maryland University College and an arts degree from Illinois Central College. The author of “Finishing Touches” and the “Rehearsal” series, both revolving around the arts, Hunsaker dabbles in fine art, piano, and guitar and runs a group assisting writers with their publishing goals. Several of her short stories and poems have been published in literary ezines. Widely traveled as a military spouse, she is now settled in western Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flappin' In The Wind

As I was updating WinnsboroToday.com this morning I ran across this item on Fox News:
Carin Froehlich pegs her laundry to three clotheslines strung between trees outside her 18th-century farmhouse, knowing that her actions annoy local officials who have asked her to stop.

Froehlich is among the growing number of people across America fighting for the right to dry their laundry outside against a rising tide of housing associations who oppose the practice despite its energy-saving green appeal.

Although there are no formal laws in this southeast Pennsylvania town against drying laundry outside, a town official called Froehlich to ask her to stop drying clothes in the sun. And she received two anonymous notes from neighbors saying they did not want to see her underwear flapping about.

"They said it made the place look like trailer trash," she said, in her yard across the street from a row of neat, suburban houses. "They said they didn't want to look at my 'unmentionables.'"

Froehlich says she hangs her underwear inside. The effervescent 54-year-old is one of a growing number of Americans demanding the right to dry laundry on clotheslines despite local rules and a culture that frowns on it.

I couldn't believe it the first time I read about a homeowners association telling folks they couldn't hang clothes outside. I mean, I understand about not wanting to see someone's underwear "flapping in the breeze" but the rest of the objections are ridiculous.

Not only is it eco-friendly to dry items outside, there is that delicious smell of sheets baked in the sun that no scented dryer sheet can match. I can remember as a child lugging the basket of wet clothes up the stairs from the basement where the washing machine was. Then my sister and I would race to see who could fill a line first. Then late in the day we would go back out to get the clothes and bring all that sweet, outdoor smell into the house.

For many years after that I continued to hang a lot of my linens and clothes outside. Thank goodness this was before homeowners associations deciding what folks could do. I no longer hang much outside -- too many birds that christen whatever I put out -- but I do try to save energy by lightly fluffing t-shirts, jeans, fleece items, and heavy towels and then hanging them on hangers to finish drying.

What about you? Do you do anything to save energy? What do you think about the restrictions on hanging clothes outside?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Road to Peace is Paved With Banjos



Here is another offering from my friend, Tracy Farr. This was first published in WinnsboroToday.com over a year ago, but is funny enough to get a new audience. Enjoy....


A while back, Hillary Clinton suggested that every baby born in America be given a $5,000 savings bond to be used when they turn 18. That's hogwash. I'll tell you exactly what every baby needs to make it through life -- a blanket to keep them warm, a pacifier to make them think before they speak, and diapers so they won't step in their own poop. But most importantly, so they grow up never taking themselves too seriously, every baby born on this beautiful planet needs a banjo.

And if everybody knew how to play a banjo, peace would spread across the world like cheese on nachos.

Banjos are the perfect thing to keep people well grounded. Have you ever seen a banjo player in a psychiatrist's office? I say not! Have you ever seen an angry banjo player? Heaven forbid! Have you ever heard of a banjo player going to rehab, getting out, shaving their head, and then going back to rehab? I shudder at the thought!

Why would a banjo player use drugs in the first place? They're happy enough as it is.
You can't sing sad songs when you're playing a banjo. It's impossible. I've tried. Sad songs sung to a banjo come out quirky and quirky songs make people smile.

If you play guitar, you have to dig deep into your soul and pull out heart-ripping angst-filled songs that make people believe you are a profound thinker. Either that or you have to turn up the volume on your amp and sing songs about drugs, cars, women, and booze in a voice so bad that nobody can tell you're singing about drugs, cars, women and booze.

On the other hand, banjo players don't dig deep into their souls because they are mostly singing about frogs, fat men, singing truck drivers, or banana splits. Also, banjo players don't have amps and the only drugs that enter their bodies are those that help fight off indigestion after a night of eating too much greasy food.

Speaking of food -- the only downfall to playing a banjo is you might be a bit overweight. Banjo players don't have time to count calories or measure portions. They eat what they like, when they like, and as much as they like. And if they die tomorrow from clogged arteries, at least they died happy with the knowledge that their last meal consisted of a dozen hotlinks smothered in chili and not baked chicken breast on top of a small portion of fat free wheat rice.

If I were in charge of this country, I would make the following suggestions:
• I believe the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be re-written to say "every American has the right to bear a banjo." If we give our kids banjos instead of guns, nobody would be crazy enough to rob a liquor store. What would they say? Stick 'em up? Give me all your money or I'll play Dueling Banjos? That wouldn't get them anywhere. The manager would probably say, "Let's get after it. I've been dying to play that song all night!"

• Instead of bombs, I think we should be dropping banjos to all our enemies. If they knew how to play the banjo, they would no longer be our enemies -- they'd be our banjo-playing buddies and we'd all get together on Saturday nights and have a hoedown in the desert.

• I believe every American president should be required to learn how to play the banjo. If our presidents knew how to play the banjo, we'd believe every word they say because banjo-playing presidents would never lie to us.Yes, they may tell a tall tale or two, but that would just endear them to us even more.

Yes, friends and neighbors, a banjo in every household is the key to happiness. Imagine no more prima donnas; imagine no more divas; imagine all our politicians too busy changing strings to accept money from special interest groups; imagine all the people living a life in peace; imagine that if John Lennon had played the banjo he'd probably still be alive today.

You may think that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll play the banjo, and the world will live as one.

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Tracy Farr is a teacher living in East Texas and drives a school bus for the fun of it. In his spare time he plays the banjo, but never on Thursdays. You can read more of his stories at www.stinkycreektexas.com.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Considering God


I've been rereading Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair the past few days. It is one of those books that has many life lessons, and I always enjoy going back to revisit them.

One that is particularly meaningful to me is the following explanation of God. It comes from Brother Thomas, a monk who has yet to make his final vows. He is talking to Jesse, the central character at a moment that carries great significance for both of them.

Sometimes I experience God like this Beautiful Nothing. And it seems then as though the whole point of life is just to rest in it. To contemplate it and love it and eventually disappear into it. And then other times it's just the opposite. God feels like a presence that engorges everything. I come out here and it seems the divine is running rampant. That the marsh, the whole of Creation, is some dance God is doing and we're meant to step into it.

The reason that passage resonates so strongly with me is that it perfectly describes my sense of God. I belong to a traditional Christian religion and have been very active in a variety of ministries within that church, but I find my experiences of God are much stronger outside those walls.

As Brother Thomas says, "God feels like a presence that engorges everything" when I go outside and see the beauty of the trees, the flowers, the endless Texas sky over a rolling hay meadow.

I am not writing this to stir a debate over what practice of religion or spirituality is right. I truly believe that it is different for everyone, and when I worked as a chaplain in the hospital I found spirituality manifested in many extraordinary ways: The Omaha Indian who taught me about forgiveness, the biker who worked with Special Olympics, and the rehab patient who would burst into song and still the entire therapy room.

What I would like to stir is a bit of personal reflection on what God, or a Higher Power, means to you. If you care to share, that would be great.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another Excerpt From My New Book

It's been a while since I posted an excerpt from the book I'm working on, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, which is a humorous memoir. I first introduced the book back in June... and I can't believe I still haven't finished it. Yikes!!

The following is from the chapter about being sick and what great fun that can be when Mom gets sick. Figured with so much flu going around it was appropriate.


In sickness or in Health...
or, You want to Look Where?

Have you ever noticed that when a kid is sick, he expects meals in bed, unlimited sympathy and continuous entertainment?

Or when a husband is sick, he simply takes the day off work, stays in bed, and accepts juice, aspirin, and a kind word in four hour intervals?

But heaven help a mother who has a cold or the 24-hour flu. Somehow she has to carry on as if all was well, and about the only way she can get any sympathy or understanding is to be approaching death's doorway. Even then, one of the kids might ask if she has the time to wash his soccer uniform before she passes from this earthly life.

I'd like to see some type of parent-child contract drawn up that would grant equal time, consideration, and cough medicine in the middle of the night to mothers.

I'd like to see a clause included in this contract stating emphatically that when a child comes home from school to find his mother still in her robe, it doesn't mean that she was just too lazy to get dressed that day.

If a mother has red watery eyes and a runny nose, it isn't from peeling onions or from watching a sad scene in an afternoon soap opera.

If a mother's face appears to be unusually flushed, it isn't from the exhilaration of an afternoon tryst.

If a mother is making 25 trips to the bathroom in an hour, it isn't just from a need for some solitude and serenity.

If a mother doesn't have the strength to drag her body off the couch to cook dinner, it isn't because she wore herself out playing tennis all day.

I used to believe that if we could get our families to recognize the fact that we were indeed sick, then we could work on getting them to respond in a positive helpful manner. To accomplish that goal, I considered making a big sign and hanging it in the living room where everyone could see it as they come in the door:
"Attention!The mother in this house is sick and has gone to bed. Do not disturb unless extreme emergency arises. (Needing to go to volleyball practice does not qualify.) Somebody cook supper. Wash your own dishes and gym clothes. It would be nice if someone came to check on me in about four hours to see if I'm still alive and to bring me some orange juice. Love, Mom."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Editing is a Good Thing...


...even when it means changing your darling words that you worked so hard on.

Just the other day I received my edited manuscript for my book that will come out next year, and I have been going through the suggestions made by my editor. It is amazing how much it helps to have another person go through a manuscript, even when it has been through severla drafts already. Fresh eyes catch so much, and I am grateful that I have a good editor.

We don't always agree on changes, which is fine with her. She believes, like I do, that the author should have the final decision unless it is a glaring craft or grammar error. But I find that if I stop and really consider what she is suggesting, I more often agree with the changes than not agree.

So the key is to stop and consider. Put the ego aside and really think about what the words are trying to say. Is the editor's way better?

What is your experience with being edited?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring Those Who Served


This Veteran's Day I want to take a moment to say thanks to the members of my family who have served in the military.

In my immediate family I have a daughter who was in the Army and a son who was in the Marines. They spent many years debating which branch was the best, and still have a friendly rivalry. Dany did not serve during an active war, but David served during Desert Storm.

My husband was in the Air Force, and, like Dany, he was lucky enough to miss conflict.

My brother served in the army in Vietnam. It was the worst two years of his life.

Going further back I am proud to say that every generation of my father's family had men serving in the military back to the Revolutionary War. It was humbling and awe-inspiring to see all the headstones in the small graveyard in West Virginia a few years ago.

While serving in the military is something that I support and honor on a patriotic level I also agree with what Andy Rooney said last Sunday on 60 minutes. He wondered why we don't have a day that honors not going to war.
He said, "Too many young men and women with a whole life ahead of them are getting killed before they have a chance to live it and for what?

Of all the things that men do - historically mostly men - fighting a war to kill other men is the most uncivilized."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Holiday Gift Suggestions



Please welcome my guest, Julie Lomoe, as she introduces you to her books.

Julie: I’m delighted that Maryann has invited me to write about my mystery novels as potential holiday gifts. As a self-published author in the early phase of building my career, I treasure each and every sale, and I believe both my novels, Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders would make marvelous gifts. But how to toot my own horn without being overly obnoxious? The answer is obvious: quote my own reviews. Here’s what some of my writing colleagues had to say:

ELDERCIDE

Not Just for Old Folks
You don’t have to be elderly to connect intellectually or emotionally with this book. The story offers something for everyone: for readers of mysteries, a good story; for readers of medical thrillers, authentic (but not too clinical) health care scenes; for readers of literary fiction, an accomplished novel with believable, fully developed characters. And for all of us living in modern society: a contemporary exploration of unavoidable end-of-life issues. The narrative flows smoothly. The dialogue is always on the mark. The editing is sharp, uncommonly good for alternatively-published books. I read the book twice, appreciating its qualities even more the second time. And after finishing the last page, I couldn’t wait to talk about it with my husband. What higher praise for a book than that it provokes discussion?
Therese Broderick, poet

A Maven of Mayhem
In addition to the joys of combing through the characters and plot to untangle a mystery, Eldercide addresses the moral issue of euthanasia. Homicide – unfathomable. Mercy killing – a very real topic for discussion. Julie Lomoe braids compassion with murder in this page-turning whodunit. As a retired home-care physical therapist myself, I related completely. Ms. Lomoe’s experience as a home-care agency administrator gave depth to these defenseless patients and their caregivers with true-to-life dialog. Her artistic talents are apparent in the vividly painted scenes simultaneously combined with her suspense-heightening skills. She blurs the edges just enough where the answers to your questions reside. Colorful in all respects. I look forward to Julie Lomoe’s next work of art.
Fay Rownell, author of Death Straight Up

MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS

Mood Swing is a Marvelous Mystery!
I began this novel with trepidation – like many others, I’m a little in awe, a little uncomfortable with people with “mood swings.” But as I read this terrific novel and got to know the myriad characters, my own mood swung a good ninety degrees – all earlier perceptions altered. This writer is a true professional, a bright, fun-loving, compassionate human being. I admire the high quality of the writing, the in-depth characterizations (often delightfully quirky); the fascinating setting (I love the details of the Manhattan Lower East Side); the realistic dialogue, the plot – all of it brilliant. I found myself going back to reread sections, to laugh (the author has a great sense of humor), to despair when the gifted WellSpringers die, to rage when the adversaries exploit Erika, the savvy but frustrated director. This is what a mystery should be: unraveling like a colorful tapestry until it is all in pieces – and in the end, put back together with love and with craft.
Nancy Means Wright, author of the Ruth Willmarth series

Mood Swings to Murder
Julie Lomoe’s Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is an excellent read, a well written and exciting page turner. . . it took me into a world I know little about, people with mental health problems and how they cope with extraordinary character. Yet it did not sentimentalize these problems, which were clearly secondary to the plot. Lomoe knows the streets and the squats of a big city and the menacing characters that may wear Mafia black or Wall Street Armani. . . Lomoe’s main character, Erika, is believable as a savvy and smart denizen of the city who also has her vulnerable side. She may be Scandinavian, but she’s no ice princess.
M.E. Kemp, author of Death of a Bawdy Belle

Julie: Rereading these quotes and typing them into this post does wonders for my self-esteem. If my books are this great, why are they self-published? I’ll take up this question in a post later on in this tour. Meanwhile, to learn more about me and read sample chapters of both books, please visit my blog: Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso. To buy my books and support small business, you can go directly to my publisher, Virtualbookworm. You can also order online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Be sure to visit me tomorrow at the next stop on my tour, Karen Walker’s Following the Whispers, where I’ll be writing about the stranger-than-fiction tale of my golden retriever, Lucky.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Preview of Coming Attractions




Tomorrow I will have a guest blog from Julie Lomoe who has been named 2009 Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library. She’ll be honored at a luncheon on November 14th, and she’s scheduled her first Blog Book Tour to help celebrate and spread the word about this achievement.

Julie self-published her two mystery novels, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders (2006) and Eldercide (2008). She tried the traditional route to publication for both books, but after a limited number of rejections, she found the process inordinately depressing and turned to print-on-demand technology instead, using the Texas publishing company Virtual Bookworm. She loves the control and involvement she’s had over the published product, including the fact that she was able to use her own cover illustrations for both books. Although she still hopes to land a traditional agent and publisher, she intends to do so on her own terms when the time and the match feel right.

The library’s selection committee for the Author of the Year award chose Julie especially for her novel Eldercide, because of its relevance to current issues surrounding health care reform and our nation’s treatment of the elderly and of end-of-life issues. The award has been given for decades, but this is the first time the committee has chosen a self-published rather than a traditionally published book.

In May, 2009, Julie joined the online Blog Book Tours group. Since then, much to her own amazement, her blog, Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso has generated over 14,000 visits. She thanks Dani Greer and the other writers at the BBT CafĂ© for encouraging her in this new challenge.

Julie Lomoe knows home health care from the ground up. As President of ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency in upstate New York, she became certified as a Personal Care Aide and filled in frequently for absent aides. The experience inspired Eldercide, the first in a mystery series featuring the staff and clients of Compassionate Care, an agency in the fictional town of Kooperskill, New York.

Julie’s first published novel, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is set in a social club for the mentally ill on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The work was inspired by her many years of mental health experience, both as a professional and as a consumer. Both books are available online from Virtual Bookworm, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard College, Julie received an MFA from Columbia University and an MA in Art Therapy from New York University. She lived in SoHo for many years, exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum, and many Manhattan galleries. She showed her paintings and won a prize at the Woodstock Festival of Music and Art in 1969, an experience she blogged about in a three-part series this past August.

Julie has published poetry as well as articles on home care, mental health, aging, and women’s issues. Visit her blog, Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso (http://julielomoe.wordpress.com) to learn more and read the first chapters of her novels.