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?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ripple Effect

Have you ever stood at the edge of a placid lake? It was so large, so still, it seemed like a huge mirror, reflecting the image of the sky. But you chose to disturb the serenity of that scene by picking up a pebble and tossing it into the water. It was just a tiny pebble, not of much importance when compared with the whole lake and, strictly speaking, it sank immediately to the bottom. It wasn’t a very exciting end for the pebble. But the lake, the whole huge lake, was affected. The pebble created only a small ripple, but the ripple moved outward getting ever larger as it went. It affected everything in its path long after the pebble that caused it was 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.

One afternoon, I took my son to the local grocery store. There was nothing much in the refrigerator, and I filled my cart with some fresh veggies, lean chicken and steak, dried cranberries, instant oatmeal, low-fat frozen dinners and a week’s supply of the low-fat, low-carb yogurt that I lived on when rushed. And I bought some fresh cookies from the bakery that Chris had been eyeing hungrily. We made our way to the only working check-out line and stood behind a woman with two full carts and three unruly children.

I found myself becoming irritated, until I looked behind me. A man in dirty work clothes stood there. He had two or three things in his arms, including a 12-pack of beer, and he looked every bit as agitated and tired as I was feeling. When the woman in front of me paid for her load, I put the separator bar in front of my things and turned to the man.

"Would you like to go first? You only have a few things, and I have plenty of time."

He looked at me as though I had two heads.

"Are you sure, lady?"

"Yes, please, go ahead."

His entire demeanor changed. He became more relaxed, and his air of irritation disappeared. He checked his few things through, paid for them, then turned to me and said, "That was the nicest thing anyone has done for me in months. Thank you."

I watched the man walk out the door.

“Why did you let that man go first?” Chris asked. “We were here longer than he was.”

“He seemed pretty upset,” I replied. “It occurred to me that he might go home, drink that 12-pack and get drunk enough to beat his wife or his kids. But now, maybe he’ll be in a better mood when he gets there. Maybe he’ll turn around and do something nice for someone else. That’s how it works. It’s called the ripple effect. Everything you do has consequences for those around you. Whenever possible, you want those consequences to be positive. We had to wait an extra 3 minutes to check out. But if that is all it takes to help that man control his temper, maybe keep his wife and kids out of a hospital somewhere, don’t you think it was worth the 3 minutes?”

“You don’t know that’s what will happen,” he said.

“No, I don’t. But you saw that man standing behind us…he looked pretty angry, didn’t he?”


“And how did he look when he left?”

Chris didn’t respond.

“I rest my case,” I said.

Over the years, both my kids would get upset with me as I let people cut into checkout lines and I would tell them about the ripple effect. I can only hope they learned the lesson well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Are you ready for a change?

An excerpt from “The Curse of Avoidance.” Used with permission.

Sometimes I sit and think about the choices we make in our youth that we would never dream of making given a few more years and a lot more wisdom. Granted a do-over, I would ignore all men while obtaining as many advanced degrees as possible to insure that I could fend for myself. I would wait until I was 30 before I even considered sharing my life with anyone. Then I would date as many good eligible men as possible and pay for a thorough background check on each of them. I would be more careful about my diet and my body and take better general care of myself. I would put enough money in savings to actually fund my retirement. I would take two vacations of at least two consecutive weeks every year and go to fun or exotic places, even if I had to travel alone.

The 20/20 clarity of hindsight is an amazing thing. The big questions are, how long do you tolerate an unhappy existence before you actually start looking back with a 20/20 lack of myopia, and are you still young enough to do something about it and make changes that actually reflect your true feelings and desires?

I got out of bed that morning, showered and inspected myself in the mirror. Faint creases around my eyes, hair graying at the temples, breasts that were nowhere close to perky and circles that betrayed not getting nearly enough sleep; I was turning into my mother. Not that resembling her was all that bad mind you; she was a very attractive woman. But she was 30 or so years older and I was starting to see the resemblance to that 70-year-old when I looked into the mirror. She had led a wonderful, fulfilling but ordinary life…housewife, mother and expert at just about anything in the kitchen or laundry. She had an eye for decorating…everything from flower arrangements to rooms and clothes. She took care of us, and our father, and our home. It was her role in life.

It was far from mine.

My dreams of going to exotic places and doing great things had fallen by the wayside as I gradually turned into her clone, a housewife and a mother, with but one saving grace; I had a job out of sheer financial necessity. In that job, no matter how tedious the work, I was exposed to other women who traveled, took vacations and did numerous things outside their homes. They were their own people, not clones of their mothers. They had broken the mold. It was time to break mine. I would be 42 in a month. I might never travel to exotic places or accomplish things of legend, but I wanted to meet the rest of my life on my terms and not leave my three daughters a legacy of doing only what is expected.

When I turned 40, I had a similar experience. I woke up and realized that I had no life of my own. I was doing the working mother-wife thing extremely well, but there was a primal urge in me to break free of it. I called my friend Bonnie, housewife, mother of six and foster mother of 20 or so over the years.

“I need to get out of Ohio,” I said to her. “Want to come along?”

“When are we leaving?” she replied.

A male friend had just recently returned from a vacation to Savannah. I had been totally enthralled by his descriptions and photographs. I did a little research about the area. Neither of us had much money, so I reserved a double room at Motel 6 in Jessup, Georgia for 4 or 5 nights and we packed our bags and drove South.

We passed the miles talking and singing along with the CDs I had in the car. It was a blast. Once in our motel room, we started roaming the area. Historic Savannah was gorgeous. The seashore was wonderful. The islands off the coast were fascinating. We went where we pleased, whenever we pleased. It didn’t matter that we weren’t in a five-star hotel. We were too busy having fun to notice.

That trip turned into the epiphany of my adulthood. I began to travel more, sometimes with Bonnie, sometimes alone. I began to write more, resulting in three published books and a pretty descent portfolio of advertising writing. I found a guitar player and began performing professionally in my spare time. I worked hard at learning new things and taking on new projects, not only at work, but also in my personal life. Some of those projects are still in the works today.

I try never to back down from a challenge, because I think that in attempting to accomplish something, one can’t help but grow, both emotionally and intellectually. I have become a different person than the woman who woke up at 40. I hope the person I have become is a new and improved version. I do know one thing…five years from now I won’t be the exact same person I am today. I’m hoping for a better me. What about you?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Betsy Ross, you have entered the Twilight Zone!

When my daughter was in 4th grade, her class took a field trip to the local library. Each student was to borrow a book about a Revolutionary War era person, read the book, and write up a book report. Meredith, seeing a book about a woman with the same name as her mother, chose a biography of Betsy Ross titled “Betsy Ross and the Flag.”

Not one to hop all over an assignment, Meredith didn’t look at the book for several days. When she finally decided to get busy on the book, she came crying and shrieking into the kitchen.

“Mom, this is a library book!”

“I know.”

“I’m going to be in horrible trouble at school! You’re not supposed to write in library books, Mom! Why did you write in the book?”

“I didn’t write in the book, Meredith.”

“Yes you did! See, it says it right here. And you wrote it in ink, so I can’t even try to erase it!”

“I didn’t write in the book,” I repeated as she handed me “Betsy Ross and the Flag,” opened to the flyleaf.

There, in ink, the book had been signed, “To Lissa Southwick from Betsy McMillan, Christmas 1959.”

“See!” Meredith insisted.

I stared at the book. The writing was indeed mine or an incredible facsimile! A chill came over me and every hair on my body stood on end.

“Meredith, I didn’t write this,” I said. “You see here, where it says Christmas 1959? I was younger in 1959 than you are right now. My last name wasn’t McMillan in 1959. I didn’t become a McMillan until I married your father.”

“Then who wrote in the book?” she asked, still teary-eyed.

“Evidently someone named Betsy McMillan, but many, many years ago. Don’t worry, Meredith. You won’t get into trouble for this.”

She headed back to her bedroom, somewhat placated. I kept the book in the kitchen until my husband got home. After he settled in, I said, “Take a look at this.”

He picked up the book, looked at it and said, “Why did you write in the book?”

“I didn’t!”

“It’s your writing,” he said.

“Exactly. But look at the date!”

He read it again. “1959? How did you sign this in 1959?”

“I didn’t! I never wrote in the book at all! How weird it that?”

After the book report was finished, I took Meredith and the book in question back to the library. I went to the desk and asked the librarian about the inscription.

“Many of the older books we have were donated from people’s personal collections,” she replied.

“Do you mind if I make copies of the flyleaf?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

I made a dozen photocopies, then went back to the desk. “May I ask a favor?”


“I know from past years that the library sells off the old books in an annual sale. If the time comes that this book is ready for the sale table, can you call me? I would really love to have this copy.”

I explained to her the bizarre coincidence of my name in my handwriting being in the book. She agreed. I gave her my name and phone number and we headed home.

For several months I sent inquiries to every Southwick and McMillan that I could find in the local phone books, but I received no replies. Eventually I put thoughts of “Betsy Ross and the Flag” behind me.

About ten years later, I got a call from the library. They had set “Betsy Ross and the Flag” aside for me. I raced up to the library and picked up the book. I opened it to the flyleaf and looked at the inscription. It still made my hair stand on end. I took it home and put it on a shelf where it remains to this day…another strange and unexplained occurrence in my lifetime of experiences!

...and another weekend rolls to a close!

Here it is, midnight on a Sunday. The grocery shopping is done, as is the banking, mailing, errand running and service going. I now have enough clean clothing and unmentionables washed, dried, and ready for another work week. I also spent the last five or so hours preparing food for the week.

Let me explain how this works. I participate in an event, held every other Monday at the local micro-winery that I frequent. This little soiree is called the Swap Meat. No, it is not a typo.

Every other Sunday night, all the participants spend some quality time making a wonderful main dinner dish. The trick is to make enough for 10 people. When you are finished, you hold back two portions for your own use. Then you package up the other eight portions for the Swap Meat.

On Monday, right after the working day is over, we all meet at the winery (which is otherwise closed to the public on Mondays) and each of us brings our eight servings. All the food is arranged on a long table, tagged with descriptors, and sometimes with reheating instructions. If 13 people show up with an offering, then the numbers 1 through 13 are placed in a hat. The proprietor walks around with the hat and each participant pulls a number.

Whoever is number one gets first dibbs on the food table. They go up, peruse and choose two items made by other participants. We run through the number order four times, and each time, each person picks two items brought in by someone else. At the end of the choosing, each person goes home with eight servings, the equivalent of what they brought in, only they have eight servings of stuff they didn’t make themselves. With the servings they held back of their own, they have enough servings to feed the participating couple for the entire week with no additional cooking (other than the pop into the nuker).

So, say I make 10 portions of lasagna, I take eight servings to the Swap Meat, and come home with two servings each of Quiche Lorraine, and Cornish hens, and Popover Chicken Tarragon, and homemade beef stew, or any number of other choices. The variety is phenomenal. Anyone can do this. Get together with a minimum of four other couples and just swap off. It’s a really great way to cook just once and eat all week with a wide variety of offerings! A side benefit is that it turns into a bit of a social event as well. We swappers agree that a good time is had by all.

Tonight I made slow roasted chicken thighs on a bed of my signature rye stuffing. I’m hoping for rave reviews!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Questions of the Week!

I’m doing some research and I have a survey for you. It’s pretty small, only six little questions. I would appreciate all the help I can get on this one. So if you’re willing, just cut and paste the questions below into an e-mail, add your answers, and send it off to me at Thanks, all!

1) Have you ever felt unable to help someone who was in need?
2) Have you ever wanted to help someone, but didn’t because you didn’t know how?
3) Have you ever felt guilty because you didn’t do something?
4) If there was a way to help, would you have wanted to know about it?
5) Would you be likely to help if you thought you could really make a difference?
6) If you thought the information was available, would you turn to books, DVDs, TV programs or other media to learn how to make that difference?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Desert Places to Dessert Places!

I thought I might shift from the relatively serious to the absolutely delicious! I warn you, this recipe is not for the faint of heart, the high in cholesterol, or the blatantly diabetic!

It is quick, it is easy, and it tastes like a cross between a Southern pecan pie and a New York style cheesecake. Here it is!

Nutty Cheese Bars

1 box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Butter Recipe Golden Cake Mix
¾ cup chopped pecans
¾ cup butter, melted.

2 packages (8 oz each) Philly Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Grease and flour a 9 x 13” pan
3) Combine cake mix, chopped pecans and butter in a large bowl.
Stir until well blended. Press evenly into the bottom of the
prepared pan.
4) In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese and brown sugar
until well blended. Spread evenly over the crust in the pan.
5) Sprinkle with the remaining pecans.
6) Bake 40-50 minutes until the edges are browned and the cheese
topping seems solid
7) Cool completely. Refrigerate before cutting. Refrigerate leftovers

The original recipe says cut in 24 bars, but they are way too rich. I cut
them 4 wide by 15 long and make 60 small bars. If they want more than one
they won’t hesitate to take them! Enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Searching for my "Desert Place"

In a talk I recently attended, it was suggested that everyone needs to find a “desert place” in which to think, contemplate, and be alone with one’s self. The speaker said all humans needed this “desert place” and compared our need for it to Jesus going off into the desert to be alone. Although that is a nice analogy, I somehow think that if he did go off it was really to get away from all the people who were following, idolizing, and attempting to learn from his every utterance rather than a retreat to think and contemplate!

In the present world, we are so bombarded with noise, people, work, and a million other things that accumulate in the form of stress that we are hardly aware that they are pressing down on us. We’re like the frog in the pot of water that gets cooked because it doesn’t realize that the water is slowly getting hotter. Like the frog, our minds become lethargic with the heat of the stresses we are subjected to, and sometimes those unfortunate enough to be lacking in personal, spiritual or mental strengths succumb.

As a writer, I have an enormous appreciation for anyone who admits the need to find that “desert place” and makes the effort to go there. I find that coming home from work does nothing to relieve stress for me. It is difficult to pursue my writing, when a messy kitchen, a bathroom that needs cleaned, a load of laundry that needs doing, or bills that need my attention are all within my field of vision. The very presence of these things adds to the load of stress. Finding a “desert place” that eliminates those things is a respite of huge proportion.

I should warn you that physical “desert places” can be pricey. I try to get away twice a year, in the spring and fall, for a weekend. I pack my computer and drive far enough away to feel the stress fall behind. I still have to sleep, eat, and plug in, so I research my destination before I head out. Other than the comfort of the bed, it doesn’t matter whether I stay in a Motel 6, a Hampton Inn, or a Marriot Resort. I choose what I can afford at the time. As long as the bathroom is clean, it has air conditioning, and Internet access, I’m a happy writer.

Some people out there, rather than make a complete journey to find their “desert place,” resort to other options found closer to home. I know a few writers who spend hours in local libraries. They claim that the quiet atmosphere is enough; and it may be for them. I tend to look up every time there is motion, and all the libraries near me are small enough that there really are no places in them that shield you from the movements of other patrons. The same goes for coffee shops. Sometimes when I need to really get away but can’t leave town, I head out to a local winery. If there is no rowdy crowd, I can have a nice glass of wine and make some writing progress, but usually there's too much noise and movement.

My last resort is to close my office door; put on headphones; listen to soothing, quiet, instrumental music; and pray that the phone doesn’t ring!

Someday, I will find the perfect, affordable writer’s retreat. Perhaps a month in an isolated house on the lakeshore or ocean would do. Many years ago, I spent three of the most productive weeks of my writing life (one week at a time) while house-sitting a ski house in the Green Mountains of Vermont. You couldn’t see the house from the road; there were no neighbors; you couldn’t even hear a car or truck go by on the road below. I even saw a moose! It was marvelous for writing, because the only distraction was my intermittently growling stomach and the physical need for sleep. I would love to have that opportunity again. I’m sure most of the writers I know would wish for the same.

Tonight, I’m resorting to the headphones. You've got to do whatever it takes! I entertain any and all suggestions!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I’m not particularly superstitious, but…

A few months back, I was invited to the house of a recently deceased woman by the heirs (her sister-in-law and niece) to the estate. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the sheer volume of “stuff” that was in this house. It was a three bedroom, two bath house with a full basement and attic. It was packed from the foundation footers to the roof peak with “stuff.” I was even more surprised when I was informed that the mother lode I was looking at had a twin mother lode in Florida. This woman evidently had spent her waning years splitting her time between the two climates.

Her sister-in-law and niece inherited because the woman was a widow with no children. She herself had been an only child. She was well into her 80’s when she died, and it was obvious she had kept every last piece of furniture, clothing and household item her parents had ever owned, not to mention the stuff she and her late husband had accumulated.

In the basement of the house, there was a strange variety of very old imported items from Mexico, South and Central America. I was told that the elderly woman’s father had been an importer back in the day. Since she was in her 80’s, I can only assume he was in his heyday starting around the time of the WWI. At any rate, the basement was loaded with old dusty pots, strange looking furniture and odd stuff hanging on the walls.

In one far, dark, web-filled corner, there were several tribal masks hanging on the wall. I mentioned to my hostess that I thought they were old and fascinating.

“You like them?” she asked as she grabbed a large bag. “They’re yours! I have no idea what to do with all this “stuff” and if you take these, that’s less I have to deal with!”

She filled the bag with the masks, eight in all. When I got home, I took out the masks and contemplated them. They would make an interesting focal point in my relatively bare office on the second floor, next to my bedroom. I took the masks upstairs, back in the bag, and set them in a corner. It was several weeks before I looked at them again.

Then one day I took out the masks and arranged them on the floor, moving them about until I found an arrangement that was suitable to the eye. I brought in a step ladder and proceeded to hang the masks on the wall.

Six of the eight masks were definitely made for the decorating market…there was no way to actually wear them. But the two creepiest looking masks, the ones that gave me the willies, were definitely meant to be worn; and I’m not talking Halloween, here. I took pictures of my wonderful wall arrangement and headed off to bed.

Then the disasters started.

The week from hell began the next day, when I went to the dentist for a simple examination of my bridgework and ended up with no bridge, a painful and drawn out tooth extraction and needing 5-6K in dental implant work. Next, the dishwasher died, then the dryer died. A few days later, a friend died. Then we had a layoff at work. When my husband called me desperate because all the smoke alarms in the house were going off intermittently for no reason, I decided a change should be made.

I went home and removed the two creepiest, meant-to-be-worn masks from the wall, placed them in a black plastic bag and put them in a dark closet.

The disasters stopped. In retrospect, I placed two items of unknown origin in the highest point of my house…perhaps putting them in a position of power? I don’t normally believe in superstition, but in this case, the disasters started and stopped with the placement and removal of the masks from that wall.

So, was it simple coincidence or was it something of the supernatural? You decide!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ho, Ho, Ho Sleep Deprivation

"One of the possible side effects of a continued lack of sleep is death"…Serendip/

Aside from all the other bad habits in my life, I’m hoping my continual aversion to hitting the sack doesn’t do me in! I fell asleep three times today, once sitting in the living room after dinner, and twice at this computer screen. I think this says something profound about my sleep habits or, more appropriately, my lack of sleep habit.

I suppose I haven’t been taking my own symptoms to heart very well. I stumbled across this little story I wrote up after a funny “sleep deprivation” moment many years back…when I was still wrapping up Christmas presents after the kids went to bed. I called the story “Ho, Ho, Ho Sleep Deprivation.” Enjoy!

Ho Ho Ho Sleep Deprivation

I’m not sure about you, but I seem to run 24/7 even at uneventful times of the year. Trying to squeeze all the things I need to do for the holidays into my already crowded schedule is extremely stressful. Keeping this in mind, I will share with you a recent happening for your amusement.

On Tuesday, after an extended day at work, I came home, ate some dinner and headed off to church for choir practice. I was already dragging when I got there, and due to all the extra songs for the upcoming Christmas services, choir practice ran particularly late. But regardless of how tired I was, I had a task that needed to be done when I got home come hell or high water. I had to wrap all the gifts. This needed to be done on Tuesday because the rest of my time for the week was already spoken for…cooking, baking, caroling, etc.

I sat down in my office with a card table to my side and began wrapping. It was already 11:00 and, by most sane thinking, I should have been in bed or headed that way. After all, I had to get up for work in the morning at 6:30. But I was determined, so box after box became a glittering jewel to place under the tree. I pressed on into the wee hours; 1 a.m., then 2 a.m. passed me by. By 2:30 I was about finished, but I was at that point of hitting the wall. When I began dozing off as I wrapped, I admitted the insanity of the situation, turned off the lights and headed to bed, making a last bathroom stop on the way.

I took my place on the throne as we women are pretty much required to do. Then being forward thinking, and not wanting to disturb Jim at that late hour by turning on a light in the bedroom, I leaned over and untied my hiking boots. What I didn’t realize was how VERY tired I was, and soon I dozed off perched atop the throne. I’m not sure how long I was out of it, perhaps a minute, perhaps more, but it was at least long enough to have that moment of complete stupor that often precedes full recognition of one’s surroundings on waking.

I woke with a start, and in that moment, glanced toward the floor. There, between my feet, and moving, was a striped snake, half blended into the gray-beige throw rug!!! In one tremendous movement, I leaped from the throne to the bathroom door while emitting a sound that can only be described as the shriek of the banshee!!

I turned around, shaking like a leaf, to see where the snake had gone. I could not see it! I was panic stricken! My heart was in my throat. My eyes scoured the floor. I couldn’t see the snake! Where was it? This was very bad. It meant the snake was hiding, waiting to come out and scare or bite the unwary (most likely me) on some other occasion!

Then I looked down and was startled to see the snake, still at my feet! The light bulb in my head snapped on at about 1000 lumens, and I dissolved into a heap on the bathroom floor, laughing hysterically, as I realized I had just scared myself half to death with my own brown and beige striped shoe laces!

Jim, awakened by the noise, was pounding at the bathroom door, wanting to know what in bloody hell I was screaming about. Needless to say he was not amused at being rousted from bed because of a demon shoe lace.

The real irony, however, is that after getting the rest of the house settled back in, I tossed and turned, awake, unable to sleep as the adrenaline that had surged into my system slowly ebbed away, adding to my ever-growing case of HHHSD (Ho Ho Ho Sleep Deprivation).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Old Dogs, New Tricks!

I’ve always been a proponent of the saying “I learn something new every day.” Up to a certain point, I actually believed that I was learning something new every day. After giving it considerable thought, I decided that, in truth, I was not learning something new every day. As a matter of fact, I think my learning curve had become, well, a flat line! I love to read, but I tend to avoid reading when I’m busy writing. When one is busy writing one’s own thoughts and ideas, there’s not a lot of room for the thoughts and ideas of others.

When I was a child, I remember my mother ordering records for the blind for my grandmother to listen to. She wasn’t totally blind, but she loved her stories and could no longer read for any length of time. I used to think, in a child’s way, that I would never want to get to the point of not being able to read for myself. But this old dog has learned something new, and has put away the ideas of that child all those years ago.

For the past year or so, I’ve been listening to books on CD or books on mp3 in an effort to expand my mind set a bit. I tell people I listen to CDs of books in my car, and they generally respond that they are not in their cars long enough to listen to an entire book. I have a 15-minute drive to work, and although I listen to a book from beginning to end in 15-minute increments, I don’t lose my place or forget what I’ve heard. At the same time, I have a different book downloaded on my mp3 player that I listen to if I don’t care for background television noise or when using one of my various pieces of exercise equipment. In spite of the fact that this is never the same book that I’m listening to in the car, I don’t seem to have a problem keeping it straight, nor do I confuse the stories.

I’m citing this fact as proof to myself (and to everyone else) that dementia has not yet set in!

I’ve listened to hundreds of books and find that the only limiting factor for me is the voice of the reader. There are books I truly wanted to listen to, but once the playback started, I turned it off for sheer auditory annoyance. For example, I picked up a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner), but I didn’t make it through a single disc. The reader, (whose name escapes me) had a voice that was flat, with no intonation, not even to indicate emotion. It was like listening to a monotone, droning speaker at some fund-raising event you are required to attend; only in this case, you’re subjecting yourself to the monotony. There are some great readers out there. One that comes to mind is Barbara Rosenblatt, who makes a book leap to life. You hear every nuance and feel every emotion. Another is Joe Montagna (yes, the actor, presently starring on Criminal Minds). Readers like Barbara and Joe make the listening a pleasure.

Audio books make any commute, short or long, go by in a faster, more pleasurable way. I love climbing behind the wheel and hitting the road as long as I have a book with me to pop into the CD player. Long solo road trips are my favorites. Sometimes I can listen to two books, one in each direction! They also help keep the mind focused, and keep you awake at the wheel.

Now, all you old dogs, get out there and listen to the books you always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to yet

And you young things out there, you don’t have to be old to do it. Even high school and college students, especially the ones who “hate” reading, can probably pick up the assigned reading list on CDs or mp3s. Trust me when I say it takes the pain out of it. You may even find yourself becoming addicted to the audible written word!