Monday, December 21, 2009

Countdown to Christmas…

I hoped that when November was over, I could relax a little, slide through the Christmas holidays and glide into 2010. No such luck! I’m still suffering from the inability to say “no” once in a while! I try to do way too much in much too short a time. This wouldn’t be such an issue if I didn’t work full time, but I do, so lack of time is a huge issue, especially during the holidays.

As I count down the days until Christmas, I develop increasing feelings of trepidation thinking about whether there will be time to accomplish all the things on my list! The next five days are already overbooked.

On Friday, in spite of being on an official vacation day, I went into work at 6:30 in the morning to issue a big report. Then I headed out to the stores to start and finish the entire of my Christmas shopping. This was complicated because, as of last week, I “inherited” four children (4, 9, 11 and 12) who will be at the house on Christmas day. Since there is NO WAY I am having children in the house with no presents under the tree, my list was increased by four.

I’ve discovered that every boy in the world wears size 12 slim jeans. I reached this conclusion because I had to search through every pile, display and rack of jeans in two stores before finding a single, elusive pair of 12 slims. I don’t remember shopping for my kids being quite that frustrating, but I managed to finally secure all the requisite items for the four new charges; none of what I bought has been wrapped yet.

On Saturday, we made a second batch of Molasses Sugar Cookie dough and put it in the fridge. Then we made Butterscotch Bars, Lemon Bars, traditional pizzelles (anise flavor) and a batch of Lemon-Poppy Seed pizzelles.

Sunday the cook-fest continued with the actual baking of the Molasses Sugar Cookies, mixing and baking a double batch of Raisin Cookies, a double pan of Niemen-Marcus Bars, Raspberry Pizzelles, the dough for Mom’s Butter Roll Crescents, and Cinnamon Pizzelles. In a new twist, I rolled 32 of the Cinnamon Pizzelles around a wooden dowel immediately after cooking to make a form of pizzelle that can be filled.

As I write this, a double batch of Hunter’s Stew is happily cooking in a pair of crock pots for the night. I stopped cooking for three reasons. 1) I ran out of eggs. 2) I ran out of time. 3) My feet and legs hurt too much after two consecutive 12-hour days of standing in my kitchen to continue any longer.

Mom will roll out, raise and bake the rolls tomorrow while I’m at work, but there are still several items on the baking docket, including two loaves of New England Bishop’s Bread, a Cranberry-Walnut Pound Cake, Hungarian Apricot Bars, and the Apple and Pumpkin Pies.

I have not yet figured out when I’m going to wrap gifts, but I’m sure I’ll fit it in somehow…maybe after choir practice! This has to happen before my son arrives on the 23rd, because most of the gifts are in residence on the bed in the room where he will be housed for the holiday.

I also have to solidify a menu and figure out how to seat 16 people for dinner. This too will happen in good time.

I am seriously considering a vacation for Christmas next year!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Flaming Turkey Wings...Fa La La La La

Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, but I thought I might regale you with the tales of the past two weeks, starting the day before Thanksgiving. I took a vacation day to prepare and I’m very glad I did! I got up early in the morning, wrote out a few checks to stick in the mail and headed for the post office, followed by a quest for a fresh 20-pound turkey. Unfortunately, a large fresh turkey was not to be found at a reasonable price, so I settled for two 10-pounders. Once all the purchases were stashed at home, the marathon cooking started.

I began by making a huge pan of lasagna for Friday. My son and his crew were to arrive on Thursday and stay for a few days. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to serve turkey two or three days running. Never one to make anything small, I did a four-layer lasagna with tomato-basil-garlic designer noodles that I picked up at a Rossi Pasta outlet on a trek through Marietta a few months back.

Three and a half pounds of Ricotta, two pounds each of fresh-shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan and about ¾ of a gallon of Tuscan sauce that had been completely doctored to my taste, and I almost threw out my back lifting the huge pan from of the oven! An hour after assembly and cooking, the pan was cooling on the racks. It soon found its way into the freezer.

Next, I made “The Stuffing.” We’re not talking Stove-Top here, or even Pepperidge Farms bread cubes. I make “The Stuffing” from scratch, which includes drying my own bread. I set my daughter, Meredith, to the task of cutting up six cups of onions while I chopped the celery, then sautéed the results of that labor in butter. I added all the appropriate seasonings and spices and then put it in the fridge to await the annual cooking ritual.

My family would disown me if I made any other stuffing than what has become the traditional one for our family. My son practically inhales the stuff. One niece who lives out of state asked for the recipe. When I finally met her fiancé (now husband), his first words to me were “So you’re Aunt Betsy of the stuffing!”

Third in line was preparation of the homemade dressing for the spinach salad. Nothing in the store quite compares to what I put together in the food processor for this dish. I whizzed it all down, poured it into a quart container and stuck it in the fridge.

After that clean up, I started the pies…two pumpkin and one apple, all with crusts from scratch. The pumpkins I made with plain canned pumpkin that I add my own spices to, so I can control the flavors. They went into the oven first. Then I rolled the dough for the apple pie while Mom peeled and sliced the apples. It was huge and loaded. I set it aside until the pumpkin pies were done.

While I was waiting, I decided to experiment. I created a variation on my mother’s sour cream coffee cake. This version was pumpkin-pecan-sour cream cake. It required the same temperature as the apple pie. So I put the apple in at 450 for 15 minutes, then cranked it down as required and put the cake in to keep it company.

This is where the fun began. As the apple pie neared completion time, I realized I was hearing noise. When I opened the oven, I discovered that the overloaded pie was leaking juice all over the bottom of the oven and it was starting to smoke. I yanked the pie out, spilling more juice, began opening doors and windows, and clicked on the exhaust fan.

The downside of this action is that the oven cooled too quickly and the cake still required another 40 minutes. I didn’t dare turn it off and clean out the oven, so I attempted to finish the cooking even with smoke pouring out of the stove.

In the end, the cake had to come out before burning on the sides, but there was at least a layer that wasn’t quite done. The flavors and the texture ended up being reminiscent of a pumpkin torte or pudding. In my opinion, I need to try it again, but the holiday tasters loved it anyway, and my son took half of it back to NJ with him when he left.

By the time I dragged the experimental cake from the jaws of death, I had been on my feet in the kitchen for almost 10 hours. Quite frankly, I thought I would never be able to stand on my feet again without pain, but fortunately I was wrong! And it’s a good thing, because I had more cooking to do the next day! To be continued….

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November Woes as it Comes to a Close!

Many apologies to my readers for being woefully uncommunicative in my blog. November is almost over, and that heralds the end of my busiest and most over-committed month of the year! The quest to pen 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month is a huge undertaking, but even more so when you spend your 40-hour work week writing and editing! I’m talking writing burn-out, and I admit I have no one to blame but myself for taking on such a task.

It has been obvious to me over the last few years that the originators of National Novel Writing Month were young males with no obvious need for concern over which month to have the event. Maybe we should move it to March, when everyone is bored, tired of winter and in need of something creative to get them through to actual spring weather.

Penning 50K words in the midst of pre-Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations (as in planning, cooking, cleaning and readying for the onslaught of houseguests), work, additional activities and events associated with the holidays that have to be attended, shopping for gifts, and on and on ad nauseum, tends to put my stress meter above the red line!

But enough of the whining! I will buck up and get it done. I’m expecting my son and his crew to arrive from New Jersey and stay a few days. My daughter, her BF and possibly his crew, will be coming for dinner as well. So a 20-22# turkey and all the trimmings are on the horizon. Once again, I have no one to blame but myself that they all expect a traditional Thanksgiving meal from scratch with few, if any, shortcuts.

Even still, I am determined to take the stress out of the holiday meal and get as much of the accessory cooking done on Wednesday as I can manage. I’m also NOT breaking out the good china. We will be doing a traditional meal on disposable decorator plates. We will be using real flatware, but much of the after meal mess will be chucked into the trash (rather than two or three runnings of the dishwasher to get it all cleaned up.

Today is food shopping for Thanksgiving, and I will be doing some additional cooking when I get home from a 2-hour rehearsal for Handel’s Messiah (performance next Sunday). Since my son and crew are staying a few days, I’m making a large pan of lasagna and sticking it in the freezer to have the day after.

This is the plan so far, and I’m sticking to it. I just haven’t figured out how to fit in the last 19 or 20K words on that NaNoWriMo novel!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

There is no soul in Sowell

Anthony Sowell…that name is already synonymous with infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. It is frightening that such a rampant stream of killings went completely unnoticed for two years. It is even more frightening that there is a good possibility the same said Anthony Sowell might be responsible for an earlier rash of murders in East Cleveland back in the 80s called the Strawberry Murders. That murder spree ended, coincidentally, about the same time Anthony Sowell was sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnap and rape.

I can’t begin to fathom what type of demons possess the Anthony Sowells of the world. Obviously, no one in their right mind would live in a house full of decaying corpses. What makes me cringe is the report of him being friendly to everyone and inviting the neighbors for barbeque…in shades of Dahmer, I have to wonder exactly what a man with no visible means of support was serving up to the neighborhood folk.

Unfortunately, most psychopaths have what seem to most of us to be normal charming behaviors and personalities. You can’t tell a book by its cover fits this scenario perfectly. Ted Bundy was a perfect example of this, handsome and charming.

Exactly when are we going to stop letting people fall through the cracks? We have national databases of donors, and medical record, insurance, credit cards…surely every single person reported missing with all the pertinent particulars should be entered into a national database. Programs should run regularly on that data looking for similarities in location, genders, body types, ages, races, whatever we can do to link cases together so the Anthony Sowells of this world can be stopped at a couple, rather than dozens.

Local law enforcement needs to check more closely on missing persons reports. It should not matter what the neighborhood is or if the person missing has a record of prostitution or drug complaints. These are human beings, not numbers. We are all created equal, we all put our pants on one leg at a time, eat, drink, cry and bleed. We all have parents, siblings, children. Every missing person case should be treated as what it is, a tragedy that needs to be addressed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's that NaNo time of year!

Yes folks, it's that time of year when the wanna-be novelists put their fingies to the keyboards and click-clack away! And once again, I am acting as municipal liaison for Lake County emissary for the deviants who created National Novel Writing Month back in 1999. What started as your basic lunatic idea, attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in one month, has become an annual international phenomenon.

When I wrote my first novel, it was an exercise. I wanted to see if I could actually write a complete book. It took an entire year of voicing my thoughts into a hand-held recorder while driving or waiting for kids, then typing it up during my lunch breaks at work until it was all in one cohesive document. I was determined to prove to myself that I could do it. And I did.

Most people out there who just "know" they have a book in them don't have the drive to get it down on paper or computer. The task seems overwhelming.

They begin to create, and by the time they've massaged the same chapter a hundred times, they give up. The point of NaNoWriMo is to get it on paper. Just write with abandon: no editing, no rewriting. As NaNo's are fond of telling people "Editing is for the OTHER 11 months of the year." (You have to do something while you're waiting for the next year's event, right?)

I will be the first to admit, this is probably not the most "normal" way to write a book, but is there really an acceptable way to create? I know someone who was so desperate to get her book written that she would write on a notepad in the bathroom while sitting atop the throne. It was the only place in the house that she could get away from the kids and the husband and have a few minutes to herself. She wrote that entire book in her bathroom.

A novel written in a month can't be very good, you say? Amazing as it may seem, there have been several NaNo's who have cleaned up their NaNo manuscripts (taking advantage of the OTHER 11 months of the year) and managed to get book deals and publication.

So if writing that elusive novel has always been your dream, but you lack the motivation to attack the daunting task, join your fellow lunatic writers at and get that book written this month!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lance Corporal David Baker, Semper Fi

It was a sad day at work today. We came into the office to discover that Lance Corporal David Baker, the 22-year old son of our co-worker Mark Baker, had been killed in an IED incident in Afghanistan. We were all stunned and saddened, and a thinly veiled darkening of mood seemed to settle about the place.

I couldn’t help but think about how easy it is to distance ourselves from the bravery and sacrifice our bright, bold young people are giving to this country every single day. They sacrifice their time, any semblance of comfort, amenities we take for granted, and indeed their very lives to do what our country asks of them. They don’t question, they perform. They give their all even in horrific conditions in third world countries far from their loved ones.

And then suddenly the tragedy strikes close to home, when the soldier or marine or sailor that doesn’t make it back happens to be the son, or daughter, or brother, or sister of someone we know…

So if you will, when you head to bed tonight, say a prayer for Lance Corporal David Baker and his family. Then add a prayer for all his fallen comrades-in-arms, and say a third prayer that all those who have not fallen will come home safely.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The H1N1 Vaccine is here…What is an Acceptable Risk?

I’m going to define my era a little here by saying that this is not the first “swine flu” alarm we’ve had in my lifetime. Back in 1976, the first “swine flu” scare held the country in its grip. There was panic over the lack of a vaccine, and much like today, companies scrambled to jury-rig together something that was supposed to protect the public against this inveterate killing machine.

Hundreds of thousands received the shots. It was particularly recommended for pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses and the elderly. Emergency shot administration locations were set up all over the country. I actually volunteered to help at one of those sites. Obviously pregnant with my first child, one of the other volunteers asked me if I had received my shot.

“No I haven’t,” I replied.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I’m pregnant, not stupid. Not even an aspirin crosses these lips while I’m in this condition, and from everything I’ve read, this vaccine has not been around long enough to test for long-term effects.”

Even in my early 20’s, I was cognizant enough of what was going on to realize that not enough testing had been done.

That version of swine flu did kill some people, but it was never the pandemic they all warned us about. There was a huge backlash from doling out vaccine that wasn’t sufficiently tested, a hoopla about vaccinating low-income areas first (to test it for the rest of society), and there were some unexpected effects as well, but there are always unexpected effects from most new medications.

Flash forward 33 years. Here it is again. I am speaking to you not as a doctor or nurse or public health official. I am giving my personal opinion as someone with a long medical industry background and many years in pharmaceutical research. I will not be getting the H1N1 shot. I will get the normal flu shot offered at my place of employment.

I will also be requesting the pneumonia shot from my primary physician. Generally speaking, it is the pneumonia complication of the flu that kills.

Anyone in my general age range, from 40 up, has already been exposed to a similar strain of this flu and should have some residual antibodies to fight it. Would I give this new vaccine to my teens and kids? In spite of the lack of testing, I probably would. The younger age groups have not had the exposure of the older generations. And testing has come quite a long way in the last 33 years.

I’m not saying that it’s safe. I’m saying that there is a component of risk, and you have to consider that risk before you take the vaccine. As with all new medications, there are unexpected side effects, including allergies to the medication itself or to the vehicle the medication is mixed with so that it can be administered.

I’m sure that the parent of any child or teen who has died from swine flu would consider the risk of taking the relatively under-tested vaccine to be an acceptable one.

So, the question is, what will you consider to be an acceptable risk?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Letterman, Halderman, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mardian…I’m so Confused!

Don’t you just love a good scandal? We don’t seem to be able to get our fill of those in the news. It’s interesting that when faced with exposure, media personalities just come out and admit it and move on while politicians deny it until they can’t anymore, then get on TV and cry about how sorry they are (meaning sorry they got caught with their pants down, not sorry they actually did it).

I got to thinking about Letterman and Halderman and it triggered something deep in my gray matter from the distant past…Watergate. We had Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mardian, and Hunt and Liddy of course. It begs the question, “What did CBS management know and when did they know it?” Will David Letterman be impeached?

The reaction to Letterman’s folly is varied. Those who are mortified at any sexual impropriety, are still mortified. Those who couldn’t care less still don’t. The swing votes are those who are disgusted with politicians but will let errant Letterman slide. Why you ask? Because our tax money is paying those politicians who are out wining, dining, and getting their sexual jollies in expensive hotels and vacation spots on OUR dime. At least Letterman is forking over his own bucks to have a good time.

Every time I travel, no matter where I go, I run into people that I know, either casually, personally, or through acquaintances. I ask myself, how in the world do people manage to carry on discreet affairs in their own neighborhoods or places of work, when I can’t travel from Cleveland OH to Savannah GA without running into people I know? The world had gotten incredibly small. Six degrees of separation has shrunken to 4 or 5 degrees. I can’t imagine having an affair with anyone living less than several hundred miles from home! Even then I’d be looking over my shoulder constantly!

My personal opinion is that Letterman is a sick individual. It’s not that he had an affair…anyone can be forgiven a weakness or an indiscretion. It’s that he’s admitted to having multiple sexual liaisons with women in his work arena. That is a clear abuse of his position of power. Any responsible corporation would fire an employee for that behavior.

So I ask again, “What did CBS management know, and when did they know it?” It’s time for someone to come out and drop the hammer. The workplace should not be a sexual hunting ground for men in positions of power.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I am pleased to say that progress continues in the effort toward publication of the new book. An agent has offered to represent it, and once the contract comes back from my legal advisors, it will be signed, and the hunt for a publisher will begin (he already has three publishers in mind).

The agent suggested that I send the manuscript to a book editor (even though he had not yet read it at that point). I spent some considerable time looking for an experienced “book” editor, someone who is skilled in overall book quality, such as flow, reading dynamics and organization, as well as the usual copy-editing skill set. The agent read the manuscript while I was searching for the right editor and sent me several suggestions, which I immediately incorporated into the manuscript. Then I sent it to the book editor for a read through.

I was thrilled with the book editor's response. He loved the book, then he roundly chastised me for making him cry in public. Evidently he read through the manuscript sitting in Panera Bread! (Sorry about that, Ken.) I believe this is the first time in my life I ever made a grown man cry…at least with my writing.

He offered some wonderful suggestions, and I have taken his advice to heart and made further changes that improve the dynamics and flow and corrected the occasional typo. The manuscript is now in it’s last and hopefully final copy-edit phase. I am running through it with a red pen, while another copy is with a highly competent copy editor for an equal run through.

Those who know me well enough to know what I do for a living might want to know why I would bother having someone else do a complete edit on my work. Let me explain. I have spent the last 20 years writing and editing for a living, but I have learned a very important lesson. Your brain sees what it thinks you typed or what you intended to type, even when your eyes are seeing what your fingers actually typed. In essence, if you typed there when you really meant to type their, your brain makes the leap when you read it again and ignores it, much like the autocorrect feature of word. Once you tell it something is correct, it never highlights it again, even when it’s wrong.

I can take someone else’s work and catch 99.9%of their copy issues. If I’ve never seen it before and I did not write it, I am more competent to catch the problems. If I’m reading my own stuff, my brain is already biased. It is much harder to edit your own work with the same degree of accuracy that you can something you’ve never seen before.

Always have someone else read your work before submitting it to an agent or publisher! If you can’t find someone competent to read through it for you, then sit down in a quiet place and very deliberately read it out loud. This is the only way to stop the brain from making that leap and force it to recognize what is actually written there.

More information on the new book will be forthcoming!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another Candidate for the Darwin Awards?

I read a news story about a man who, in an effort to make his manhood larger, slipped it into the center hole of an iron weight…you know, the kind you usually put on both ends of a steel bar and use for body building? Of course, it promptly got stuck.

This was not a surprise to me, but evidently it was a huge surprise to the man in the story. I’m not quite sure how many methods he used in the attempt to extract himself from the dumbbell. I’m assuming he must have run out of options, because after three days, and finally went for help to the emergency room.

Unfortunately, they had no way to remove the dumbbell from his manhood…or should I say they had no way to remove the dumbbell from the dumbbell. So the fire department was called. They managed to saw through the dumbbell without further damaging the man’s equipment.

And therein lies the rub, so to speak. Don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking that any man stupid enough to hang a weight on himself to make himself bigger should definitely not be allowed to further pollute the gene pool by using that equipment to reproduce!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Shark Tank

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am fascinated by the TV show “Shark Tank.” I have learned more about cutthroat business practices in the last six weeks than I was previously jaded enough to imagine. We’ve been treated to custom energy bars that you design and order online; an invention that allows you to make any bottle of soda into a float; charcoal-filtered, flatulence-catching underwear (to curb those awful smells); a new sports bra; and BBQ sauce and rub, mini pies, exercise equipment and just all kinds of interesting inventions.

I think the one I found most repugnant was the funeral party planning company. They compete with funeral homes to arrange your final send off. And they do it by taking therapy dogs to dying patients and talking them into this service ahead of time! Talk about preying on the vulnerable! Another goodie was college foxes hauling boxes...a moving company that uses the sexiness of coeds to get business.

The inventors/entrepreneurs bring their wares to show a panel of five multi-millionaire/billionaire investors and attempt to wrangle an investment of cash in exchange for a piece of their company. The five investors are all interesting personalities, each a master money maker in his or her own profession, from real estate, to marketing, to clothing lines and computers. After watching the group of them, I’m not sure I would trust any of them enough to partner with in a business!

Anyone out there watching this show?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the Occasion of Rosh Hashanah (which was yesterday)

I am inspired to write after reading a post on Facebook from my fellow author, Kiki Howell (The Witch’s Beast, Mystic Stones, The Healing Spell and, coming soon, Rituals).

Kiki is married to Steve, a teacher and a fabulous musician. Steve is of the Jewish faith, Kiki is not. But Kiki was home preparing for the High Holy Days, starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. She describes this time as “commonly known as the Days of Awe - a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.”

What a terrific concept! We don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the things we’ve done and the effect those things had, are having, or will have down the road. Certainly ten days is not too many out of 365 to stop and reflect on what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you intend to do. You might find that if you actually think about things, it can change your direction, or temper your future actions, or even spur you to more vigorously follow your original intention.

Since there are only nine days left in the Days of Awe, I suggest you divide it into thirds. Spend some time today, tomorrow and Tuesday thinking about all the things you’ve done or haven’t done in the past year. Did they turn out as expected? Were you happy with your own actions or inaction? Could you have done it better, or smarter, or with more discretion, or with more consideration of others? We all have room for improvement.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday can be used to think about the present. What things are you doing now? Are they things of which you can be proud? Are they things that move you forward in life in a positive way or are you letting negativity get in the way of what you are creating? Are you letting the people you care about know that you care by your words and your actions? Are you sitting there saying “I’m not Jewish, why would I do this?” and letting a prejudice keep you from the benefits such wise introspection time might bring you?

Saturday, Sunday and Monday should be used to think about what you intend for the coming year. A life without goals is not a life; it’s an existence. Everyone should strive for something. There is no sense of accomplishment if there is no goal to meet, no task to conquer. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. Perhaps you want to lose 5 lbs, or 50 or 100; maybe you want to get that GED, learn to play guitar, get a new job, read a book a week, go fishing once a month…the possibilities are endless. If there is something you want to do, set the goal and strive toward it.

A friend asked me what was new, and I told him I had acquired an agent to represent my latest book. His comment was, “You never cease to amaze me. You say you’re going to do something and then you go out and do it. I don’t do that.” My question to him was “Why not?”

And so, I am adopting the “Days of Awe.” Want to join me?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Patrick Swayze and the Plight of the Terminally Ill

A truly amazing actor and human being passed away on Monday. Patrick Swayze lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. But, you know that already. We all loved the man, we loved the actor, we loved his roles. We loved the way that he carried on his personal life, not leaping from marriage to marriage or woman to woman. He had class and scruples. He was a rarity in the world of movies and television. He fought the good fight for almost two years against a demon that rarely loses.

I was not surprised at the reports that he was flooded with cards, well wishes, and prayers from fans all over the world. I’m certain that support helped fuel the intensity of his fight against the disease. And of course he had the unfailing devotion of his wife and close friends. Unfortunately, this is not case for most people suffering from terminal illnesses.

When someone is first diagnosed with a long-term or terminal illness, we send cards and flowers. We stop to visit. Then we do nothing. We stop sending cards; we don’t go to visit because we don’t know what to say or do. The ill person’s predicament makes us quite uncomfortable. With each passing day they become more isolated from everyone with the exception of immediate family and a few medical professionals, as the rest of the world, namely us, avoids them as though death itself is something contagious.

After our initial attempts, we subconsciously create excuses to avoid contact with that person. Those excuses run the gamut from “I’m too busy” or “I don’t want to impose” to “I’ll stop by next week when I have time.” Inevitably, we never do stop by. Days turn into weeks or months, and that acquaintance eventually passes on. We’re left with mixed feelings of relief (from the stress the act of avoiding caused us) and remorse (because we avoided and now we feel guilt because it’s too late).

How would you feel, if you were the ill person? Think of how much better it would be to leave this world with the love and support of all your friends and acquaintances, like Patrick Swayze did. Granted, the chances of having hundreds of thousands of adoring fans supporting you is pretty small, but it would be really wonderful to know that your friends and acquaintances were not ignoring you during your last and most precious days on earth.

It's something to think about!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Living in the Age of Disrespect?

I’m not quite sure what’s happening these days. It seems the whole world has gone a bit bonkers. I’ve never seen so many people behave in such incredibly rude and unconscionable ways, especially in very public venues. As I said in a previous post, it’s as though “injure first, apologize later” is becoming second nature with many people.

I was taught to never hurt anyone deliberately. I was taught to respect my elders, my teachers, my parents and grandparents. I would never have dreamed of talking back to my parents, and yet, this is a normal thing for children to see these days on TV and video and something they seem to emulate.

Between Joe Wilson screaming “You Lie!” at President Obama, Serena Williams indicating her displeasure at a line judge’s call by offering to place her tennis ball where the sun doesn’t shine, and Kanye West rudely taking away a really special moment for a very talented and very young Taylor Swift, quite frankly, I’m not sure which behavior was the worst.

I would chalk up Serena and Kanye as youthful stupidity, but they’re hardly kids and both of them are old enough to know better. There is absolutely no excuse for Joe Wilson. He’s being paid to represent the people who voted him in, and if any of them have a half a brain, they’ll vote his butt out of office at the next election.

The only one of these three who seemed to actually be contrite and offer a sincere and believable apology was Kanye West. I watched him struggle with his guilt while talking with Jay Leno. If he wasn’t really sincere, then he deserves an Oscar.

In all of this, I have to say that Taylor Swift had incredible poise for someone so young. She impressed me, as did Beyoncé, who brought Taylor back on stage so she could give her acceptance speech without interruption…two very classy ladies!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bipartisanship Reigns Supreme!

Thank you Congressman Joe Wilson! You managed to do what no one has done in a long time. You managed to get the Democrats and the Republicans to agree on something…that your behavior was unconscionable! Now, how about if those agreeable Dems and Reps find some more common ground and work together to get the country out of the mess we’re in?

Obama's Healthcare Reform Speech...

I waffled somewhat before I decided to post yet another opinion in the sphere of politics. Ironically, I was sitting on the edge of my mother’s hospital bed, still waiting for some staff physician to do his job so we could leave. I was pretty much on the verge of meltdown, having been there since 2 p.m. and yet, there we were, watching Obama’s speech on a mini hospital TV on a boom arm. A full 7½ hours from the time I arrived until the time we finally left, but that’s another post altogether!

The speech. Actually, I liked it. I think Obama has a presence, a charisma, and an intellectual level that’s been missing from the White House for the past eight years. He made valid, intelligent points. I hope he can garner some cooperation from the right, because I think trying something is better than living another 20 years with what’s failing. I also love that he always seems to take the high road, rather than sink to the level of the heckler.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I really couldn’t stand George Bush. I thought he was a horrible representative for our country. He was nothing like his father, lacked both dignity and education, and couldn’t pronounce common English words. I’ve never heard any president murder the language quite like he did. But, and this is a big but, if Bush had entered a room and I was there, I would have given him the respect that the office commands. It doesn’t matter whether you like him or not. If he’s the President of the United States, he deserves respect.

When that foreign journalist flung his shoes at Bush, I was mortified. But I was even more mortified that a member of the United States Congress would heckle the President during his speech by calling him a liar. Not only was his behavior in amazingly poor taste, it was behavior that is forbidden by the Congress! We sit around and wonder why our children are so incredibly disrespectful and yet this is the example we give them?

That one anger-impaired representative did more damage to any children that viewed the healthcare speech than anything the education speech could possibly have done. Where is the outrage of parents who should be calling that representative to task for his unconscionable behavior? Okay, he apologized later…easy to do after the damage has already been done. Congress should order him to anger management therapy.

Sad to say, the news is full of “injure first, apologize later” scenarios, even, it seems, in the halls of our government.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Obama Speech and other School Controversy...

Okay guys and gals, let’s take off our hysteria garments and talk about the evil plot of President Obama to influence the children of the United States and use them to push his evil agenda in front of their parents!

God knows, having a President actually speak to the kids about “the importance of staying in school and doing their homework and making everyone proud” is the most insidious of left wing plots! Never been done before…oh wait, unless you count President Ronald Regan doing it or President George HW Bush doing it. But in those cases, there was no agenda, no evil plot. After all, Regan and Bush simply gave speeches that talked to kids about “the importance of staying in school and doing their homework and making everyone proud.” Didn’t I just hear that somewhere else???

The extreme right has no shame whatsoever. It will say anything and do anything to instill fear in the minds of the public to further its own political intentions.

The people who spew this fear-mongering crap at the public should be flogged. And those who suck it in and believe it…well, that’s what Darwin Awards are all about…those who are so incredibly moronic as to make us wish they could never procreate. I saw one hysterical mother crying and screaming at a newsperson “How could the school do this to my child?” You would think the school locked her kid in a room with a convicted child molester.

People this idiotic form the largest herd of sheep the U.S.A. has ever known. These are the ones who believe because some right-wing bigot with a radio show told them to believe. And the number of mindless wool producers in that herd is numerous enough to provide a nice warm sweater to every person on the planet!

Locally, some 8 year old took a BB gun to school. He pulled it out and pointed it at two other 8 year olds. They went and told the principal. The offending child was suspended from school and the BB gun was taken away. But the school failed to immediately inform the parents of the two 8 year olds that were “terrorized” by a fellow 8 year old.

Both parents were on the news berating the school officials for their lack of action. The one woman was actually saying, “This is the worst possible thing a school could do,” with tears in her eyes. Now, the BB gun was never fired. The two kids did not seem at all upset when interviewed, much less “terrorized.” The offender was punished. I’m not saying that this could not have turned into a serious situation, but the evil school, neglected to immediately inform the parents that their child was...fine. Let’s make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Novel Experiment, Part III

This is the last novel excerpt I will be posting for a while. I beg your indulgence as I drag these unfinished novels out of moth balls and into the light of day.
Eventually, I have to pick one of these to be the first on my list to finish. So, once again...send on your comments! Thanks!

Genevieve had the advantage of advanced age, or the disadvantage, depending on your point of view. A common woman, she lived simply and considered her life happy and content and somewhat unremarkable. Early in the evening on the day I moved into the house next door, she welcomed me to the neighborhood and invited me over for tea. Exhausted from hauling load after load from the rental truck, I gratefully accepted. Glancing around in amazement, I followed her through the ‘stacks’ to her kitchen. "Oh no, another loony old woman who can’t part with her trash." I thought as I took mental stock of the sheer poundage of paper that had taken up residence.

She opened a cabinet to reveal boxes and boxes of tea. "What kind do you prefer?" she asked. "I’m a bit of a tea connoisseur, so I have many varieties; some are quite different than what you normally get at the grocery store."

I quickly scanned the shelves. "Ginger-Peach sounds particularly appealing at the moment, thank you."

Genevieve took a pair of large mugs from the cupboard and set the water to boil. "I know what you must be thinking. But don’t worry, I’m not offended,” she said and looked at me with wizened eyes. “Piles of newspapers and magazines are far cleaner and much less work than having a house full of cats. I don’t have to worry about flea infestation, and no smelly cans of cat food or stinky, overflowing litter boxes are required." She laughed, poured the steaming water into the mugs and carried them to the table. "Please sit down and enjoy your tea. I’ve been watching, and you haven’t stopped to rest all day. You must be close to collapsing."

"I don’t know if I would go quite that far, but I am getting tired. Thanks for noticing, and thank you for the tea. It’s a real treat." I took a sip of the aromatic blend. "It’s ironic that you have my favorite flavor of tea at hand…and such a lovely coincidence."

"The irony, my dear," she replied, "is there is no such thing as a coincidence."

"What do you mean?"

She sat silent for a moment as an all-knowing smile crept across her face. "I’m sure this is going to sound a bit odd, but I believe that everything that happens to you in life, happens for a reason. When you achieve, when you fail, who you meet, who you don’t, in good times or in bad, each thing happens to teach you a critical lesson either at that exact moment or in retrospect. But I think the most important thing I can tell you is to choose your words and actions with the utmost care. Everything you do, everything you say, has an effect on those around you and on the direction of the universe."

"That seems a bit mind boggling. Are you telling me that if I walk into Starbucks and order a steamer, I might change the direction of the universe?"

"Have you ever stood at the edge of a placid lake? So large, so still, it seems like a huge mirror, reflecting the image of the sky. But you choose to disturb the serenity of that scene by picking up a pebble and tossing it into the water. It’s just a tiny pebble and not of much importance when compared with the whole lake and, strictly speaking, it sinks immediately to the bottom. It’s not a very exciting end for the pebble. But the lake, the whole huge lake, is affected. The pebble creates only a small ripple, but the ripple moves outward getting ever larger as it goes. It affects everything in its path long after the pebble that caused it is lying inert at the bottom of the lake. We are all like that…pebbles in a huge universe. We don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but each little thing we do or say creates ripples that affect everyone they touch."

"But you can’t really mean I have to watch ‘every’ word I say."

"I suggest you think about every word before it leaves your lips, and about every action you take before you take it." She walked over to the counter and retrieved some gingersnaps to dunk in the tea.

"That seems like a horribly daunting task. Isn’t life hard enough?" I asked.

"It gets easier with time. I’ve been researching this for many years. You don’t really think I’m just another dottering old woman who collects newspapers, do you? Those stacks represent facts, and facts attest to things that have happened. Given sufficient information, you can correlate some small thing you did with an effect on someone or something down the road. Even if you think of yourself as living a quiet and mundane existence, you would be surprised how much effect you have had on the world, including an effect on people you’ve never met.”

Genevieve lifted the mug to her lips and took a slow swallow, one that seemed designed to allow her sufficient time to gather her thoughts before continuing.

“The other thing I should tell you is that you should watch for the savants that enter your life and heed what they try to teach you."

"I know many people I could describe as idiot-savants, but I have never heard of savant used as a singular term. What, exactly, is the difference?"

"Much in the way of guardian angels, savants appear in your life when you most need them. A savant is a sage, a teacher…someone who illuminates your life and your mind. He or she could be a seemingly unremarkable person who helps you to set or change the course of your life by performing one small act or imparting one bit of wisdom that makes an indelible, life-altering impression. I know these concepts must be foreign to you, but if you give them some thought, you may find that I’m right."

"Your theories certainly are intriguing," I said between bites of gingersnaps and sips of tea. "I will definitely give them some thought."

"It is quite simple to find the evidence if you just take the time to look. We all lead busy lives, especially a young person like you. But I bet if you think about it just a little bit, you will find the evidence of my theories in your own life. It can’t hurt to look, now can it?"

We exchanged more pleasantries, and I steered the conversation toward the neighborhood and the surrounding area. Then, with as much haste as I could muster while not appearing rude, I made my excuses…particularly having to put my bed together to avoid sleeping on the floor that night…and I took my leave of Genevieve.

I thought about everything we talked about as I finished assembling my bed frame. I was torn: was she a charming old lunatic or an eccentric genius? I had to admit that much of what she said struck a chord of truth. Then again, there were those mountains of old newspapers…On the other hand, she seemed to know that keeping them made her look like a head case. Her awareness was a good thing, and a point in her favor, as I debated the pros and cons of it all.

Finally, determined not to think about Genevieve and her theories any more, I dropped my weary body onto the freshly made bed and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Novel Experiment Continues - Number 2

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their comments on the first novel excerpt that I posted. I found all of your comments and suggestions helpful. So I decided to post an excerpt from another novel that I have sitting on a back burner, waiting for my time and attention. If you have the time and the inclination to read this, the preface to "The Disappearance of Jack" I would be most appreciative. All comments welcome!

The Disappearance of Jack

It was a truly amazing thing, a world unto itself, and yet, a world unto all. It was a place where one could seek information relentlessly and anonymously. It was a place where billions of bits of ideas, lies, truths and facts converged in a maelstrom of information, only to be categorized, classified, compartmentalized, sorted out and put to rest in countless databases.

Sarah found it endlessly fascinating. Sometimes she would start with a simple search and end up spending hours jumping from one intriguing site to the next. If not for work, laundry, meals, sleep and the other mundane duties of life, she would be forever glued to her flat-screen monitor happily clicking away.

What was the harm in that? It was not as though perusing the universe in such a way was intrinsically wrong. In doing so, she had learned an enormous amount about the world and about life, both good and bad. Sadly, she had also learned that she was observing life, not living it. She was one of the silent ones who watch the events of the world unfold around them without ever making a peep. Sarah was certainly not one to put herself, or her ideas, forward for comment, and her rather awkward shyness contributed to her absolute lack of a social life. It seemed the only way to have a life, while not giving up her beloved on-line time was to use the same venue as a conduit, a pipe-line for meeting new people, communicating, exchanging ideas and information, making new friends.

That is just what Sarah intended to do. In the previous month, she had posted three on-line profiles at various sites to meet other adults, and she had installed two messaging programs. An amazing number of replies to her profiles had found their way to her e-mail account, and she was rapidly learning how to use the messaging programs to find others also seeking communication.

It was not that she didn't have a life outside the ether, you understand.
She worked a full-time job and talked with people all day long. A social life was something all together different, and the Internet was just a way of expanding her universe to include many things that would otherwise be, not only impossible, or unimaginable, but perhaps even unthinkable. Yet she could remain at a very safe distance behind a veil of anonymity, sequestered in the haven that was her home.

But that veil was thinner and much more translucent than Sarah could possibly fathom. She had no inkling just how expansive, how unthinkable, how unimaginable, and how very close to home her new universe could be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Novel Experiment

This is part of the first chapter of a possible novel. I'm not sure if I should pursue the story. I'm welcoming all comments! Thanks!

Once Dead, Twice Shy

If someone tells you that death is the be all and end all, that when you’re dead, you’re dead…don’t believe a word of it because it just isn’t true. I’ve been dead, and I can tell you from personal, first-hand experience that all kind of activity was going on over on the other side. For one thing, the place was full of dead people. Dead kids were romping and playing like there was no tomorrow. Dead adults were milling around, talking, laughing and enjoying their “retirement”.

It was, quite simply, overwhelming. When I found myself there, I was instantly surrounded by crowds, everyone checking out the “newbie” to see if I was someone they needed to welcome. I was miraculously calm; not my normal self at all.

I searched the crowd for what seemed a good five minutes, and much to my delight, my grandmother emerged from the throng, a huge smile on her face. She gave me a bear hug…the kind she always doled out when she came to visit us long ago.

“Grandma!” I said and I started to cry.

“Good Lord, you haven’t changed a bit, Deenie…still weeping at the drop of a hat! You’re certainly not ready to be here, so stop your sniveling and go back where you came from!”


She pushed me backward until I tripped over my own feet. So much for a warm and welcoming reception!
As I struggled to regain my footing, someone tapped me on the back. I whirled around to find my 8th grade English teacher?

“Mrs. Handeyville?” I asked, my voice dripping with incredulity.

“Deena dear,” she said and handed me a term paper with a big red “F” scrawled across the top. “That was a very nice try, but you’re just not working up to your potential. Now you go back home and do it right this time.”

She turned and walked back into the crowd; I stood there with my mouth hanging open, the F-laden term paper dangling from my hand.

The next and most unlikely surprise was Mac. From the time I was started kindergarten until we moved out of the city right after third grade, Mac was the beat cop with the kindly face that manned the crosswalk as I walked to school. I hadn’t seen him or thought of him in more than 30 years. Although he only looked vaguely familiar to me, I knew who he was the moment he firmly grabbed me by the arm.

“Go that way, Deena” he said, pointing me away from the light. “You’re not finished there and lives depend on you.”

“Lives depend on me? What do you mean ‘Lives depend on me’? What are you talking about?”

A little more information would have been helpful, but all he did was give me a hard shove back into the darkness.

Suddenly I was gasping for air.

I opened my eyes. Everything was white. I reached out and found a sheet over my face. As I pulled it away, the sterile hospital-room environment came swirling into view. What the hell happened? And what was I doing here?

Gingerly, I felt my arms, head and upper torso. Convinced I was still intact, I pushed myself into a sitting position. Were my legs working? Yes, I could feel the sheet on my toes. I swung my legs over the edge of the table before I realized I was buck-naked. Then my eyes and stomach began to swim and I lowered my head between my knees and took slow, deep breaths, hoping to regain my faculties. After a few very long minutes, I inched my way up until I was sitting normally again. Where were my clothes? I slid off the edge of the table and touched my feet to the floor, tentatively, wrapping myself in the sheet as I tested my ability to stand.

I walked forward a few halting steps, using the cold tile wall as my crutch. When I turned around, I saw a telltale, blue plastic hospital bag under the table.

“Thank God!” I said, aloud.

I opened the bag and extracted the remains of my clothing. My running shoes and jeans were intact, but my brand new L. L. Bean T-shirt, my favorite Victoria Secret bra and the matching panties were cut to ribbons.

“Damn! I only wore that shirt once. And my undies! Don’t these people believe in unfastening?”

I slipped into the jeans, sans the underpinnings. It was my first, and hopefully last, experience with rough seams rubbing and chafing in places unmentionable. I was over 40; it was hardly the time to start going panty-less, and although I wasn’t sagging as much as most of the over 40 crowd, going bra-less was not very appealing either.

With the sheet draped over my form like some kind of oddly huge sarong, I made my way to the wall of storage bins and cupboards. I flung open all the doors and drawers until I came across a stash of clean hospital gowns. After fastening all the appropriate arm snaps, I put one of the cursed things on backward, rolled it up above my waist and tied it under my unfettered bosoms, sort of a large hospital-gown dam, keeping the twins at bay. Dumping the remaining contents of the plastic bag on the table, I retrieved my cell phone, my purse (which amazingly appeared to be untouched) and my car keys. Then I slipped into my shoes and bravely stepped forth into the hallway.

“Excuse me,” I said to the only other human I could see…a nurse with her nose in some charts. “Could you tell me where I am?”

She didn’t even look up. “Metro.”

I guess I hadn’t yet made an impression.

“Would you mind telling me what happened, how I got here and who cut up my L.L. Bean T-shirt and my Victoria Secret undies?”

She looked up. The sarcastic retort she intended was choked off by a blood curdling scream. Then she hit some kind of button that set off a security siren.

Policemen and security guards came running, guns drawn. They found the nurse cowering in a corner and me, clad in jeans and my makeshift bustier, purse slung over my shoulder, leaning on the chest-high counter at the nurse’s station.

“She’s dead, she’s dead!” screamed the quivering mass of supposed medical knowledge.

“What’s going on here?” one policeman demanded.

“That’s exactly what I was asking. Then she started screaming and pushing buttons,” I said.

“You must have done something,” he said.

“Well I did. I woke up naked and covered with a sheet in a room down the hall. I found my shoes and jeans and what was left of my brand new L.L. Bean T-shirt and my gorgeous matching Victoria Secret bra and panties in a plastic hospital bag under the table. I got dressed as best I could and came out here to ask what happened, how I got here and especially who cut up my clothes. She took one look at me and went ballistic. I think the guys in white coats need to come take her to a safe place.”

“She’s dead, she’s dead!” the nurse continued to scream.

“Give it a break, lady,” I said. “You’re not the one who just woke up naked and covered from head to toe like a cadaver.”

Drawn guns followed me as I walked to the other side of the hall and sat down in a chair.

“I’m not leaving until someone tells me how I got here and who destroyed my clothing.”

The rest of the day will live in infamy, at least in my mind. I was detained for hours as the hospital administrator grilled me. I was re-examined at considerable length by the doctor who had declared me dead only hours before, as well as by his superiors and multiple other colleagues.

Upwards of 95% of the medical staff wandered in and out of the room gawking at the ‘miracle woman’ who had awakened from the dead. I was poked and prodded, quite literally, up one end and down the other. Finally, I was told that I was brought in by ambulance after suffering a severe allergic reaction…to crab cakes.

After about 8 hours of insanity, they put their collective medical degrees to work and came up with two conclusions that no lay person could ever possibly have figured out:

1) I was most definitely not dead and
2) I should avoid eating crab cakes…duh.

I never did find out the name of the culprit that slashed my clothing…and no offer of reimbursement was forthcoming. I wondered if I could claim the pricey undies on my insurance.

Eventually, I was released on my own recognizance. In other words, I refused to stay any longer. They had no legal right to keep me there. As I climbed into the cab that would take me back to the restaurant where the fatal crab-cake incident had occurred, I saw the screaming nurse, strapped to a gurney, being loaded into an ambulance marked Haverford Sanitorium. How fitting, I thought…and smiled.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Magic Trick

Earlier this evening, I was watching AFV (America’s Funniest Home Videos). It reminded me of something that happened many years ago that I wish (with every fiber of my being) that I had managed to catch on film.

My youngest was about 5 or 6 years old. She came into the kitchen, where her father and I were sitting at the table, having a cup of tea. She was all excited because she had a magic trick to show us.

After placing a crayon on the table, she covered it with a paper towel. She closed her eyes, waved her makeshift wand (a pencil) over it with some dramatic flair, and said “Abracadaba!”

She lifted the paper towel, but the crayon was still there. So she did it again, covering the crayon, closing her eyes, waving her wand, and saying “Abracadabara.” The result was the same. Never one to give up, she tried once more, but this time, when she closed her eyes, I quickly lifted the corner and palmed the crayon.

She opened her eyes and lifted the paper towel. Immediately she began to jump up and down screaming.

“I did it! I did it! I did it!”

“Wow! That’s great!” I said. “Can you make it come back now?”

She stopped jumping up and down, and looking completely stricken, she replied, “I don’t know! I didn’t practice that!”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In the Aftermath of Mega Disappointment

Did you recognize that collective cry of agony here in Ohio as ticket holders discovered that the winning Mega Millions numbers were sold in California and New York? It was rather like the noise that Obi-wan Kenobi heard when the Death Star destroyed Alderaan. I didn’t realize how much I wanted that win to be in my home state until I was struck by the reality of all that money going somewhere else. Granted, even if someone here had won it, there was little likelihood of it saving Ohio’s failing economy.

I think we really need something to cheer about. The Indians have failed us miserably, the Browns are questionable (though showing a glimmer of promise), and the population lives in fear that LeBron will leave the Cavs. A Mega Millions winner of such a huge jackpot in Ohio would have been a nice little shot of hope and adrenaline. The people need something positive to focus on rather than thinking about their financial woes.

Ohio and it’s residents have taken a huge hit in jobs lost, layoffs, and salary cuts. Most everyone is cutting back and struggling to get by. I consider us to be extremely lucky so far. My husband was cut to 4 days a week in February (an effective 20% cut in pay). I took a 10% cut shortly after that, but I’m still working a full 40 hours (and sometimes more). After 6 months of income loss, I can see it taking a toll on my meager savings account as we keep tapping it to make ends meet. But it could be so much worse. One or both of us could be out of work completely. It’s happening to Ohio residents in record numbers.

Somehow, I can’t help thinking about all the people I would help if I had won such a huge amount of money. After all, the pot was larger than the Gross National Product of many small countries!

Alas, all I can do is hope the winners in California and New York have enough social conscience to use some of those funds to help others.

Website Woes!

This week’s techno-debacle involved uploading updates to my main website, I freely admit, I hadn’t changed the site content for some time. But I was quite surprised when I tried to upload my changed pages and it didn’t work. In the intervening months, the host server had changed several procedures, and for some reason, I was unaware of the changes. After exhausting all the FAQs on the server’s website, I had no better idea of what I needed to do.

It was time to call technical support. I made the call, explained my issues, and a very friendly man with a very thick accent listened. He told me he would send me the IP number where my folders reside. And he did just that. But when I typed it into my program, although it appeared to upload, there was absolutely no change to my website presence what-so-ever.

I decided to type the IP number directly into the address bar to see where it went. It took me to a dive shop in Bimini!

Tonight, I called tech support again. I explained to the nice man that the information I had been given the night before had not worked, and that I needed more help. He checked my website and told me that the files had uploaded, but were not in the correct folder to show up online. He moved the files for me, then set up the system to automatically place my uploads in the correct folder. Now it works like a charm!

And so my weekdays end on a positive note!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To sleep, perchance to dream....

I sat along the pebbled shore
Where no human sound could interfere
As water swelled and waves moved in
The wet and wonderful melodies to my ear.
I listened there for many hours
And drank in all the notes and rhythm streams
And carried them with me to my home
To soothe away the darkness in my dreams.

When I was young, I loved to go to sleep at night because I had “serial” dreams. I would crawl into bed, think about the previous night’s dream and pick up where it left off as I fell asleep. For months, I would weave a long and complicated story in the fabric of my dreams. I always remembered them and kept the good times going from night to night.

Then in college, I had a particularly vivid dream. It was a totally ludicrous story, bright and colorful and very disturbing. I woke up wondering where it came from and told my roomie about it. We laughed as I described the dream to the smallest detail. Several weeks later, I was visiting my then boyfriend in his hometown. The totally ludicrous dream was played out almost verbatim, as I stood there with every hair standing on end. The day after the dream-reality was complete, my boyfriend dumped me in a most unceremonious way…one that brought the meaning of the dream into painful, screaming clarity. It was an incredibly traumatic experience.

After that, I rarely remembered any dreams at all. It was as though a huge steel wall would come slamming down in my head, preventing me from remembering anything that might be painfully prophetic, protecting me from more trauma.

Since that time, I’ve remembered only a handful of dreams. Each of those has been extremely vivid, colorful, and prophetic. I live most days feeling as though I’ve lost a third of my life by not being able to remember my dreams. I think dreams help you solve problems, and they make clear things that are not clear to the conscious mind. I would love to once again be able to remember where I’ve been in my subconscious all night!

I’ve tried all manner of things to lift that steel wall that comes slamming down each night, but to no avail. If you have any suggestions on how to recover my dream life, send them on!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

With Apologies to Alex Bevan...

My friend, Matt, recently wrote a piece called “Profiting from our Ignorance” in his blog, A Vestige of Sanity. (You should check it out if you have time.) In it he talks about those profiting on our desire to be thin…not normal, but excruciatingly model-like thin. He makes a good case for rethinking the way we allow our kids to be brainwashed into thinking nothing bigger than a size 2 is good enough, pretty enough, or attractive enough.

This is a particularly serious subject…I know, because as one who has fought the weight battle her entire life, I’ve been there. As an adult, I am much better at curbing my desire to be a size 2 than I was as in impressionable teenager. I’d be happy with a 10 or 12, but I’ve still got a way to go to get there in a sensible and healthy way.

The issue for me is that having gone from being particularly huge to somewhat normal, I have “issues” that can only be tackled surgically. You can lose fat, you can lose pounds, but you don’t lose skin. The skin is an organ. It can shrink some if you are still young, but it doesn’t disappear.

So why am I apologizing to Alex Bevan? If you don’t know who Alex is, you haven’t been keeping watch over the music scene in NE Ohio. Alex is a legend here, one incredibly good guitar player and song writer. He is a rarity, earning his living with his music. He has performed not only locally, but toured nationally in his younger days with many well-known bands. He is most famous for his song “Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland Ohio,” which I am convinced he is probably sick of singing after all these years.

Alex performs a wonderful song called “Cool Stuff” about the unfettered buying spree he would engage in if he won the lottery or inherited a bundle. I loved his catchy tune, but I wrote my own version of the lyrics; with Alex’s permission, Forest and I performed this little goodie quite often when we were playing the local circuit. It is an irreverent look at what we’re willing to do to look “acceptable” given the funds to pay for it!

New Bod!

Some say life is good and sweet
Some think toys make life complete
But they’re not lookin' in my mirror each day
Cuz for every week gone by
There’s some things that catch my eye
That make me want to call the doc and say…


Gimme a new bod, one that’s long and lean
Gimme a new bod, Like nothin you’ve ever seen
Fix me up from head to toe
My plastic surgeon’s rolling in dough
Gimme a new bod, one I'm not afraid to show.

Take a little nip here and a little tuck there
Lift my boobs and derriere
Make my form more pleasing to the eye
Some liposuction please
So I fill my Calvin Klein’s with ease
And make men turn their heads when I walk by

So take these jiggles from my knees
And laser my legs if you please
And I won’t ever have to shave again
Take the thunder from both thighs
Remove these bags below my eyes
And put a mini implant in my chin.

A tummy tuck would sure be sweet
Those 6-pack abs are buried deep
A redone belly button would be quite nice
Lift my neck to make me sing
And upper arms without bat wings
Would certainly be well worth the price

Give me a Lopez butt and Jolie lips
Tina Turner legs and gypsy hips
Make me over from my head down to my toes
I want to fit in a size five
and finally feel alive
Write a book about it all, and be on Oprah’s show

The Great Michelle Obama Shorts Controversy?

I’ve always considered that most everything in life is a matter of perspective. It the glass half empty or is it half full? Are you a conservative or a liberal? Do you believe in everything you hear from Rush Limbaugh’s lips or do you take a Jon Stewart type of attitude? What makes news real? Can you tell the difference between a lie and the truth and are either absolutes? I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty.

I saw the picture of Michelle Obama disembarking from that plane and she was NOT wearing hot pants. Hot pants used to be what loose girls wore, then it became what hookers wore. Now every uncontrolled teen-aged girl in the world who emulates Britney Spears wears them. They are hip-hugging, painted-on tight, and so short that the wearer’s butt cheeks are peeking out the bottom edges. They are not a pair of modest mid-leg jeans like the ones Michelle Obama was wearing in that picture.

I say to the so-called reporters who keep feeding us this kind of crap as news…grow up and learn how to apply yourself as an honest-to-God journalist! Michelle Obama’s shorts are not news. Neither are her shirts, skirts, dresses, nighties or undies. How about putting forth some effort into investigating any number of issues that actually make a difference in the lives of your readers or your viewers?

In the grand scheme of things, Michelle Obama’s wardrobe has absolutely no effect on the lives of average American citizens, with the exception of those in the clothing industry.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm Back!

It really is quite good to be back! I came home from work on Monday to find that I had no internet access. For some odd reason, there was no cable signal running into my modem. I did all the appropriate things: check the connections, reboot the computer, reboot the modem, reboot the wireless router. No go!

I called Time-Warner and got a computer that told me how to reboot my modem and then to call them back. Although I had done that and more before I placed the initial call, I disconnected the call. I was pretty sure that when I called back, their lovely computer could tell I had called before and would put me through to a human being. I was right, and soon I was conversing with Matt, a nice techie guy who checked all the bells and whistles before the pronouncement that the cable signal was definitely NOT getting into the modem (which is only a month old, by the way). His other pronouncement was that they couldn’t get service call out to the house until Wednesday afternoon.

So Monday night, I added a chapter I had been thinking about to the manuscript. I did some other writing I had been putting off for a while. What I really wanted to do was to read my e-mail and check my on-line sites. I clicked on network connections and found a 1-bar, unsecured avenue onto the net and I jumped all over it.

I have no idea which of my neighbors I have to thank for that opportunity, but I do indeed thank them! It was a life saver! Of course, I didn’t do this until the wee hours, so I don’t think my incursion into their internet connection caused them any issues. And I didn’t stay on the connection for very long. I did discover that their server was NOT Time-Warner, because although my e-mail came in without issue, my outgoing mail just did a “sit-and-spin” in the outbox!

The service call tech showed up a few minutes earlier than the scheduled time, which is good. He came into my office, checked all the connections, rebooted the computer, rebooted the modem, rebooted the wireless router. No go!

Then into the basement to check the incoming connections (which we had already checked on Monday). Turns out the problem was out at the street on the telephone pole! We are now online, and it is such a relief. So my many thanks go out to Matt on the Time-Warner help line and to the nameless tech who got us back up and running.

Life is good!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Emergence - The Chrysalis Factor

Several blog-posts back, I talked about making changes. I wrote about taking a trip with a friend of mine and how that trip turned into the epiphany of my adulthood. Although that trip was an eye-opening experience, there was a catalyst behind my taking that step.

I was inspired to do something with my life by my hero, Buckminster Fuller.

At the age of 32, bankrupt and jobless, having never accomplished a useful thing in his life, he was living in squalor in cold and windy Chicago. His daughter had died of pneumonia and he felt responsible because he was unable to provide better living conditions. He began to drink heavily and eventually decided to take his own life. But standing on the frigid shores of Lake Michigan, ready to take the plunge, he had a sudden epiphany. Before he would take his life, he would try "an experiment, to discover if a single individual could actually change the world and benefit humanity."

With that decision, Buckminster Fuller set out on the long journey of change. He soon found that he could not change anyone else, and it was even hard to change “things’ but he could change himself. Everything he accomplished from that point forward was due to his own personal evolution. He studied and became an architect and engineer who invented the geodesic dome, just one of dozens of technological advances for which he was responsible. He also held more than 50 patents, published many books and lectured all over the world.

About the time I turned 40, I found myself at a point in life where I was stagnant and questioning. I worked a 40-hour week, came home and vegetated. I ate to ease my boredom, my pain, to commiserate and to celebrate. I had always been heavy, but after a while, I could not deny that I had become obese. I wasn’t living my life anymore. I was just existing. Then I saw a documentary on Buckminster Fuller. Curious about the man, I began to research his life. I was so inspired by the way he made a completely useful life out of a completely wasted one, that I decided I could, and should, try to do the same. So first, I took a trip.

Then I began my real journey, my personal evolution, my emergence from the cocoon of non-existence. I call it the chrysalis factor. Chrysalis is the stage of evolution when an insect, a moth, or butterfly becomes the creature it was meant to be.

In order to become the creature I was meant to be, I had to approach changing my life on several fronts simultaneously. First there were the health and weight issues, then the reclusivity problem and finally the lack of change and growth…stagnation. All of these problems were intertwined.

I began by addressing my health and weight issues: diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. These are not things that are easily or instantly fixed; therefore, I wrote out a plan for eating that I thought I could live with over the long-term. I implemented the plan and began a slow and steady reduction in weight as I turned my attention toward the other problems.

Reclusiveness was my next problem. I was horribly uncomfortable in social situations. Up to that point I had restricted my forays into the outside world to those I deemed absolutely necessary…work, groceries, the bank and church. Slowly I began to attend other types of functions. This became easier as I lost weight and became more comfortable with myself. Still it took tremendous conscious effort on my part, to force myself out among people. As a writer, reclusiveness is almost a requirement of the trade. And I found myself writing more and more. To achieve balance between being social and being a recluse, I spent a measured amount of time each day strictly for writing.

The third issue was the lack of change and need for growth. In order to make strides in this area, I had to push myself to try new and different things. I began to talk to people on line and expanded my world exponentially by doing so. I met hundreds of people I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet. One such person was a publisher. He liked my writing style asked me if I thought I could write a book on women and the internet. I set aside the writing projects I was working on and wrote the book, which he subsequently published. I flew to Seattle for the launch of the book (a woman who had not been out of Ohio in 30 years.)

Then I found myself launching a professional singing career. I went from hiding behind the entire choir at church to being a solo vocalist in a musical duo. Suddenly I was out there at center stage, singing my heart out and not worrying about being the largest person in the room. Again, performing became easier to do as the weight disappeared, because I was less self-conscious and because I had more breath behind the voice.

I’ve come a long way in the intervening years, and I have fallen in love with change and my own personal evolution. Thank you Buckminster Fuller!

So, what is your chrysalis factor? Are you flying about as the creature you were meant to become, or are you still in the cocoon, stuck to some dead branch, buffeted by the elements and going nowhere?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock Redux?

I didn’t go to Woodstock. I was just heading into my senior year of high school, and I was working for the summer. I loved the music; I was into all the bands of that era. But the possibility of attending Woodstock was not something I could have even dreamed of arranging. I bought the Woodstock albums and listened to them repeatedly. It was a wild and wooly time in our history.

But I’ve learned that you just can’t go back. I know so many people who spend enormous amounts of their personal time and energy living and dwelling in the past. And I have to ask, “Why? What is it that you hope to find there?” To those who look back on those high school and college days as the best times of their lives, I say “Don’t you think it’s time to get a life?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look back when I’m 85 and think high school days were the best of my life…because that would mean the 65+ years in between were a worthless waste of time!

I have to admit, the music was pretty good back then, though! My son surprised us in ’94 or ’95 by getting us tickets to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young 25th anniversary tour. We hadn’t been to a rock concert in years. I was appalled to find out that the tickets were $75 a pop and they were nose-bleed seats! We drove downtown, paid the event parking and got ourselves into the arena.

We looked around in wonder as we headed toward the roof, passing row, upon row, upon row of white-haired, paunchy, middle-aged couples with 30-year old tie-dyed tees and ripped up bell-bottom jeans they had dragged out of mothballs and stretched over their mid-life middles. They had their white hair pulled long and straight, with colored, metal-rimmed John Lennon glasses, beaded headbands and peace signs drawn on any exposed skin.

We found our seats and settled in for the ride. I turned to Jim and said, “Oh my God, these are our peers!”

The music started up and it was great. David Crosby came on stage at one point, solo. He sat, fat and white-haired, and belted out “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in a voice every bit as clear as 20 years earlier. An obviously high-as-a-kite guy a few rows ahead kept standing up and playing air guitar to the chagrin of the people behind him. Two couples in the row ahead of us were passing a joint back and forth and laughing the whole time.

But what I noticed that really got to me, was the rocking. I looked around and there were people all around me rocking in their seats. By rocking I don’t mean bouncing and moving around, I mean forward and back, forward and back, like a rocking chair. It was like being surrounded by 20,000 people with the movements of adult autism because NONE of them were actually rocking in time with the beat of the music! It was incredibly bizarre.

When the concert was over, we agreed that the entertainment was a lot more than just the band! Even so, I had a hard time understanding why so many of those people felt it necessary to revert to the dress and actions of wild teenagers in order to enjoy the music.

I’ve been to plenty of rock concerts in my day, everything from a 12-hour stint at the old Cleveland Stadium for the World Series of Rock, to Alice Cooper, to Jethro Tull and more. I still listen to the music, and appreciate the incredible talent behind those acts, but I have no desire to go back to the youth I was when I attended those things.

In retrospect, I didn’t have the maturity or the sobriety to really appreciate what I was hearing back then. If I’ve learned anything in my life, not making the same mistakes twice ranks pretty close to the top, right next to you can’t go back!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Variation on a Theme: Simple Acts have Profound Effects

Last night I wrote about the Ripple Effect and how even the smallest things we say or do can have an impact on those around us. I used the check-out line story to illustrate what this story illuminates. It involves an old high school friend, Jack Black. To be clear, this is not the Jack Black of comedy and movie fame!

A dozen or so years ago, I received an unexpected email from an old high school classmate. The message read, “This is Jack Black, a blast from your past. Please call me collect, I would really like to talk to you.” It included a phone number.

I hadn’t spoken to anyone from my high school in 25 years, but intrigued at the message, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

"This is Jack."

"Hi, Jack, it’s been a very long time. This is Betsy. You sent a message asking me to call."

There was a moment of silence. "Betsy! I can’t believe I’m finally talking to you. I’ve been looking for you for years." Did he really sound almost choked with emotion?

"Why in the world would you be looking for me?" I asked.

"Because I wanted, and needed, to thank you. If it wasn’t for you, I would never be where I am today."

I was more than a little taken aback by that statement. "Jack, I have no idea what you’re talking about."

"Do you remember back in high school, when you helped me with my schoolwork?"

I laughed. "You mean when I gave you the answers?"

"Exactly. But the nature of what you did is not the issue. What you don’t realize is how that has affected my life. I’ve thought about it for a long time and I’ve come to the conclusion that I owe my current career and successful life to you. Let me tell you a story…"

Once upon a time, there was a juvenile delinquent named Jack Black. Jack was the class clown, always in trouble, never did his school work, smoked, drank beer, and was always being dragged to the police station for nuisance offences. He spent more time in the principal’s office than any other kid in class. But there was this one girl who felt sorry for him. She was the class nerd, a bit of a braniac. In the way of the old-style, alphabetized, good Catholic schools, she sat right behind him in all his classes.

All through high school, Betsy ‘helped’ Jack…through Latin, through English, through Geometry and Algebra. Although she wouldn’t cheat enough to give him "A’s" she helped just enough to keep him on track. At the end of the four years, Jack got his diploma and graduated with the rest of the class.

He eventually fell under the influence of the police he so frequently had contact with, and ended up pursuing a career in law enforcement. Can you believe that? The class screw-up became a police officer. But as life went on, Jack realized that he was spending all of his time dealing with the next generation of juvenile delinquents. Hundreds of ‘Jacks’, they were as miserable and misunderstood as he had been all those long, growing-up years.

He decided there had to be a better way to keep those kids from ending up at the police station. Jack couldn’t do anything about their home life, and that meant the only way to have enough time to exert an influence was during school hours. If only he could have some impact on these troubled kids, maybe they wouldn’t keep ending up on the wrong end of the legal system. But to do that, he needed to go to college and get a teaching degree. He made up his mind right then and there, started researching what he needed to do, and eventually enrolled in college…something he could never have done if he hadn’t graduated from high school.

He knew that if he had to work for a GED first, he would have been discouraged and he might not have done it. But thanks to the empathy of the braniac girl that sat behind him for four years he had that diploma. He enrolled in college and got his Bachelor’s degree and then his Master’s degree in education, and now he teaches troubled and hard-case teens. He absolutely loves what he’s doing, making an impact on the lives of kids who really need good adult influence, but he never could have done any of it without Betsy’s help.

"I bet you didn’t know that your simple acts of sympathy toward the class bad boy would end up changing his life forever, not to mention the lives of all the kids he helps."

"Good grief, Jack. All I did was give you a few answers."

"Trust me when I say, if not for you, I really wouldn’t be where I am today. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now, how do you feel about coming to our class reunion? I would very much like to see you."

"Jack, if you want me to come, I’ll be happy to attend. Just e-mail the information to me with enough advance warning."

When the phone call ended, I couldn’t help but think of Jack’s gratitude as a huge overstatement of my influence in his life. After all, we were just high school kids, and the things we did back then didn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, right? But when I thought about it in the context of the ripple effect, the picture became incredibly clear.

Whether I wanted to admit it or not, those few things I didn’t think twice about doing as a reckless teenager had made a significant difference in Jack’s life. But I think what amazed me most was the level of maturity he had attained; enough to recognize that my simple acts as a youth had profound effects on his life, and in the way of the ripple effect, that impact was being passed on to all the students he was influencing as a teacher.

Now I wonder what else I might have done in blind youth or ignorance that had an impact on someone else…good or bad. One could go a bit crazy worrying about it; so my philosophy in life is to move forward, always, and with great care that I
not do or say things that may have a negative impact down the line. How about you?