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.)


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

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.

Bookmark and Share

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.


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 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 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.


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

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:


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 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 ( to learn more and read the first chapters of her novels.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Artistic Expression

We are having a wonderful Fine Arts Market in Winnsboro this weekend and I am signing copies of One Small Victory. Today I was there in the afternoon and will go back tomorrow afternoon from 12 until 4.

One of the neat things about this signing event is that it is at a gallery where a lot of artists are there to greet people. I got to talking to one of the artists and we commented about how one form of art feeds another. That got me to thinking about how important it is to take a break from writing and do something else.

That's probably why I enjoy acting and directing and some of the other artistic pursuits I have. I have always done them because they were fun, but I never really stopped to think about how important they are for my creativity.

The more I thought about that this afternoon, I realized that I know a lot of people who are proficient in several forms of artistic expression.

Writing is my only professional creative endeavor. The acting and directing is all as an amateur, as is my photography, guitar playing, and painting. But they all bring me great pleasure.

What about you? What kinds of artistic expressions do you enjoy? Is one more important than others?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Read My Lips

It's Not a Death Squad

Thousands of people are protesting the health care plan being considered in Washington for all the wrong reasons. They are zeroing in on the section on end-of-life issues and promoting the idea that the provision means the government will be telling people when to die.

Sarah Palin is one of the most out-spoken, and perhaps influential, people stirring up this frenzy. In her blog and elsewhere she uses rhetoric that doesn't enlighten. It just stirs up emotion. This is from a commentary about her blog:

Palin was quick to note that the health care plan could make decisions regarding anyone at the end of their life, which might include her baby. She believes her parents and baby will have to leave it in the hands of Obama’s “death panel” to determine whether they are worthy of receiving health care. This is certainly not something anyone would want to face or see their loved ones experience.

The truth about that provision is that the government would provide funds to educate people about the importance of making end-of-life decisions and using Advance Directives and Medical Power of Attorney documents to make their wishes known. This isn't something we are comfortable talking about, but tough questions need to be asked and answered.

If you have cancer and are 80 years old and have a heart attack, do you want full resuscitation. Do you want to be on a ventilator in ICU?

If you have been in an accident and are brain dead, do you want to be kept on machines for an indefinite period of time?

If you have a terminal illness and can no longer eat, do you want tube feedings?

I worked for eight years as hospital chaplain and dealt with many situations where these questions had to be answered during times of extreme emotional distress. Family members were looking at their loved ones and feeling a desperate need to keep them alive. Because their emotions were so raw, they couldn't see past that to the pain and misery their husband, wife, mother, father, sister or brother might have been going through.

Being in ICU on a ventilator is not a pleasant experience.

And it is an extremely expensive proposition.

In our medical ethics sessions we would often discuss the sad fact that thousands of dollars were spent daily to keep a body alive when a person should have died days or weeks earlier without the pain and desperation that is so often the case in an ICU.

Which doesn't mean that every case in ICU or Oncology is hopeless. But many an ICU nurse would share their frustration with me over the fact that they had to keep sedating some poor old lady who kept trying to pull all the tubes out and that poor old lady died a week later anyway. She just had seven days of misery. And took seven days of time and attention that needed to go to a patient who had a chance for a positive outcome.

As part of my job, I had to start talking to patients about Advance Directives. It was easier to talk to them and to families when they were not in a crisis situation. It was also easier on them to have someone trained to deal with death and dying issues and with what the documents provide. Which is the point, I think, of this provision in the health care plan.

I know. I wish I had someone to help me talk to my mother about this.

So, if you want to protest the health care plan, protest because it is going to cost too much. Or protest because it is going to be administered by the government, who are so efficient with administrative matters. But don't protest the end-of-life provision.

We all need to think about how we are going to go "into that goodnight."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Another Gift Book Recommendation

I am a picky reader. I'll freely admit that. It isn't often that I pick up a book and find reading time infringing on working time, and sleeping time, and eating time, and well, any time.

While I enjoy a good story and read a lot of popular fiction, I am usually able to discipline myself to keep the book within the allotted reading times -- during breakfast and lunch. (dinner time I spend with my husband) bedtime, and some evenings when I am not working on a puzzle or doing some knitting or quilting.

However, The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a book that has refused to stay within the designated bounds. My breakfast and lunch breaks stretch much longer than normal and my nighttime reading threatens to become early-morning reading.

Perhaps the story resonates with me because it deals with the Civil Rights era, which was an important part of my life in college as I started developing a social awareness beyond the totally white suburb in which I grew up.

But the truth is, the story and the characters and the writing are all so compelling it is like I am in this place - Jackson Mississippi -- with these people -- Abileen, Skeeter, and Minny as they decide to write a book about the way colored help is treated.

This book takes an honest and engaging look at a period in history when people were openly racist, especially in the deep south. People didn't question the attitudes of the era that included mistreating and even despising the black women who worked as their maids and raised their children.

The story is told from the point of views of the three central characters, Skeeter the white woman who comes up with the idea to write the book, Abileen, the first maid to agree to help, and Minny, the outspoken maid who has lost too many jobs because she dares challenge an insult or injury. Each POV is distinct, and the voices of Abileen and Minny reflect the Black vernacular and racy humor without reminding the reader of "Amos 'n Andy" the classic television program that spoofed the Black experience more than it portrayed its reality.

Stockett has woven a masterful story that gives the reader a glimpse of an important social awakening as it affected people on both sides of the racial divide. It will please readers who want to explore social issues, but it will also please readers who just love a good story. It works on both levels.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Lessons From A School Bus Driver

More fun from Tracy Farr.....

Learning your lessons the bus driver way

It takes a special kind of person to drive a school bus. Not just any Joe or Jane can do it, and most of us wouldn’t even try.

But those who feel the calling – those who dare to get behind the big wheel and travel the back roads with a busload of young people who believe a school bus is just recess on wheels – well, those people end up learning a lot of life lessons, and are reminded of them each and every day.

1. The first thing a school bus driver learns is that to be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late – but that only applies for cranking up the school bus. On the route, everything changes: to be early is to be yelled at because the kids aren’t ready, and to be late is okay, but not too late, because then the riders start to freak out and wonder if they’ve missed the bus.

Time is both a friend and an enemy. You can’t get more, but you’ll never have less than what’s given to you. It’s best to use it wisely.

2. The next thing a school bus driver learns is not to judge a person by the house they come out of. Some kids live in big houses with landscaped yards and nicely-trimmed hedges. Some kids live in small houses with yards that haven’t been mowed in months, with washing machines and toilets peeking out from behind the weeds.

Nice “things” don’t guarantee nice people. Sometimes the most polite and helpful riders come from the “wrong side of the tracks.”

3. A school bus driver learns that sometimes passing the buck is not an option. Yes, a driver’s job includes keeping an eye on the road, insuring the riders get to where they’re going safely. But it is also the driver’s job to keep an eye on Little Johnny who looks like he wants to take out his Elmer’s Glue and squeeze a glob of it into Little Susie’s hair before he gets home.

“It’s not my job” is a phrase spoken by people who don’t care. “Sit down, turn around, and put that stuff back in your backpack before I turn this bus around and take you back to your momma” is a phrase that has “love” glued all over it.

4. A school bus driver can learn a lot from squirrels. Most squirrels have one goal – to dart across the road in front of a school bus without getting flattened like a pancake. But some of those little buggers stop in the middle of the road and get all wishy-washy about which way to run. It’s funny to watch from the driver’s seat, but I’m sure those little squirrels are scared out of their ever-loving minds.

Having a goal, or direction, is the key to success. Being all “willy-nilly” is the surest way of getting squashed.

5. A school bus driver learns that it’s best not to drink a lot of coffee before heading off on a route. Some of those roads are long and bumpy, and when the bladder calls, it does not want to be denied. But a driver can’t just stop the bus and “take care of business” with kids on board, and not very many families will open up their homes to let a crazy bus driver use “the facilities.”

It’s best to “take care of business” before the business takes care of you.

6. And finally, one of the most important things a bus driver learns is patience. Patience for kids who remember they left their backpack in the house and they’ll “be right back.” Patience for getting behind a tractor that can only go 10 mph. Patience for kids who fall asleep and miss their stop. Patience for Little Emily who is singing “Jingle Bells” over and over again, and she only knows the first verse.

If you search for the word “patience” in the dictionary, it will refer you to “school bus driver.”

I’ve been driving a school bus for almost 20 years. Some days are good; some days not so much. But every day is a learning experience. As a matter of fact, just the other day I learned that a cow can be vengeful, sarcastic and down-right rude when it has to get up from its dry, comfortable resting place on the road, just because a school bus comes along.

But that’s another story.


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