Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ten Things: The Graduation Speech No One Will Ask Me to Make

This is in honor of my youngest child’s last two days in high school. Woo hoo! But no one ever asks me to deliver a graduation speech. I know—go figure. So here is the speech I find myself wanting to make. These are the ten most important things I wish someone had told me, or things I am working on, or things I learned the hard way. What would YOU add?

1. Some people would have you believe that kindness is synonymous with stupidity, empathy is synonymous with weakness, and honesty and respect are synonymous with naiveté. Don’t buy it. There is no accomplishment in selfishness. It takes a wealth of inner resources to be a giver—and a lack of them to be greedy. In the long run, the people we all remember and respect the most in life aren’t the rich or the beautiful. They are the ones who gave something to others—and not because it glorified them. They gave simply out of love.

2. Remember what Jane Austen said over 200 years ago. Marry a spouse with character. That woman knew human nature. She’s still right.

3. Beauty really is overrated. What’s more, beauty is a lot more common than I always used to think—it’s everywhere. And thank heavens for that. If you don’t see it, change your definition. If you’re concerned about how you look, work to be healthy, happy, and good. Then you will be truly beautiful to other truly beautiful people.

4. When you finish learning, you finish living. Always learn.

5. Laugh at yourself. You’re a cheap source of amusement and you’re always politically correct.

6. Be best to those who love you most. Too many people work to attain the approval of strangers while mistreating their loved ones. Avoid those people at all costs. Be loyal to the people who matter. Including yourself (go Polonius).

7. If that little warning light in the back of your mind goes off, don’t be an idiot. Listen.

8. Beware of people who habitually ask for pity…or those who habitually try to dole it out. Both are manipulators. The people who deserve the most respect tend to be the ones who show it to others. Seek them out and befriend them. If they respect you back, they will always be dear to your heart and your life. And really beware of those who operate on double standards. In fact, beware of inequality. Woodrow Wilson said, “You cannot be friends upon any other terms than upon the terms of equality.” Was he ever right.

9. Crappy things that are completely beyond your control will happen to you. Maybe they already have. It sucks. The good news is that being an adult means you can either change your situation, or failing that, change your response to it. Do one of those, or both, making sure your choices are positive ones that make things better for yourself and others in the long run. Then be thankful for the person you’ve become and for the crappy things that led you there. If you do that, you will make each of life’s gouges into a stroke of the sculptor’s knife, and in the end you’ll be left with a work of art called Wisdom.

10. Two of the most valuable possessions you can own are a good walk and a good laugh. Walk like you own the world and people will think you do. Laugh like you love the world, and people will know you do.

So…walk far and laugh a lot.

In honor of the occasion, I have two quotes, each from one of my all-time favorite authors :

If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. ~Ray Bradbury

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind. ~Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Improper Poll: (Green) Beaned

My daughter and I felt a little sick last week. No one threw up, but we occasionally felt as if we might be on the brink. But then, we are not thrower-uppers.

In college, I heard of a girl who routinely stuck her finger down her throat to barf up her dinner. I’d never heard of bulimia, so I tried it. I succeeded merely in drooling clear down to my elbow. By then I was so grossed out that I gave up. Now I know I'm not so unlucky that my body has the annoying habit of hanging onto food.

But anyway, while thinking about vomit, I was reminded of the time my sister threw up and a green bean came out her nose. I mentioned this to a group of friends once, and one of them volunteered that she’d had a similar experience with corn. Corn! Out the nose! Will wonders never cease??!

So naturally I am wondering if this phenomenon is confined to vegetables or side dishes or what. Have you ever vomited out the nose? Is this common, nasal vomitage? Is “nasal vomitage” a real phrase, or merely one that should be?

And do you have any puking stories to share?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #13

Oh, how I love Fridays...especially during final's week, when I get the luxury of an actual lunch hour rather than twenty minutes!!!

Thank you to Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff for hosting Book Blurb Friday and also for forwarding this week’s picture to me so I could see it! I do have a Firefox update to install that I’m hoping will help me to see pictures again. In the meantime, Ms. Ricard Claro presents us with a challenge each week to write a blurb (150 words or fewer) to go with the pretend book cover. Am not quite as crazy about my blurb as I am the beautiful picture, but at least I made the limit at 150 words!

Welcome to Marie Sterling Wilber! I find her blog helps me learn about an art form I’ve always admired—photography—but never explored well enough. It’s worthwhile just to look at the pictures!

~Silent Night, Deadly Night~
Jason Rasmussen was handsome, intelligent, and married to his childhood sweetheart, the lovely and gentle Elise Rasmussen. But on Christmas night, Jason seemed to disappear into thin air.

Investigations revealed that Jason was medicated for bipolar disorder and Elise had had an affair with the boy who bagged her groceries. Had Elise had something to do with his disappearance? Yet it was Jason who had recently taken out a life insurance policy on Elise, and she had broken off the affair six months earlier with the claim that she still loved her husband. Had someone else had something to do with his disappearance? If so, who?

Most disturbing of all was the fact that absolutely nothing indicated Jason had even left home at all—there were no missing car and no tracks in the fresh snow…nothing. Or was there?

Silent night, deadly night
All is calm, nothing is quite right….

“…the rock-bottom requirement for any good partnership is that you want what’s best for the other person.” ~Gloria Steinem

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Senior Sex(less) and the City: #18

Cute Guy
“Guess who likes you?” my friend asked me. “Who?” I asked. I wrinkled my nose out of habit.

For Valentine’s Day, I got a card from a friend. Two little girls were on the front. “Johnny likes you,” says one.

“Paste-Eating Johnny, or Booger-Eating Johnny?” asks the other. I wish I could find what I did with it, because I can’t remember the punch line. Something about enjoying my options, I think. But the point is, that’s how I feel. Amazingly, it was neither Paste-Eating Johnny nor Booger-Eating Johnny. It was…could it be??!!!

Cute Guy.

I squealed. “Really!?! Are you sure?! Did he tell you, or do you just think so? Does he like me, or does he LIKE me like me??!!” I made her repeat every single word that passed between them on the subject. Twice. Then of course I made her add in any facial nuances he may have used to convey the message. Then I giggled and danced around a bit.

Cute Guy is more than cute. He is smooth. He has chunky-but-clean man hands and a warm handshake and a winning smile. He smells good. Not good as in too-much-aftershave-good, but good as in his personal scent is good. Not that sharp, I-can’t-walk-up-a-hill-so-I’m-turning-red-and-emitting-sour-sweat personal scent. But a clean skin smell. That one. Oooh….

Then she mentioned his age. Oh. Oh crap. He is quite a bit younger than I’d hoped. I told my friend my age. Maybe it’s that she’s only seen me in darkened rooms, or maybe the fat distracted her from the wrinkles or something, but she thought I was younger. Oh, she says. Oh. She knows it, too—it’s too much of an age difference. And truthfully, I don’t blame him a bit. I wouldn’t date someone that much older than I am. I don't think I want to date someone that much younger than I am, either.  Some people can do it. I can’t. I want someone my own age.

Still. I’m unaccountably happy. Like the birthday card, I do have some pretty fun options. And age? I’m still giggling like a twelve-year-old.

Cute Guy liked me!

Welcome and thank you to new blog follower Dorothy Evans!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Improper Poll: A Day in the Life

Friday after work I checked out the news and found out I only had one day to live. Where did this come from?  I thought we had until 2012.  So all of a sudden I had to think about how I would spend my last day on earth.

I thought about things like drinking and smoking and trips, but in the end, I spent my pretend last day on earth almost like any other weekend, and I think that’s just what I’d choose. 

Except…my son is now home from college.  His mess follows him home like Schultz’s Pigpen, a pile of wet-clothes clutter that grows until it engulfs our house and garage like kid-kudzu. Kidzu? Krudzu? There are paper plates of petrified pizza and fingerprints and smeary half-filled glasses all over the house.  He shoots Nerf darts at his sister when she’s forced to pass his room, so in addition to the random shrieking, there are things like little darts all over. 

So I think if it were really my last day and I had time to plan, I would have hired a maid service.  And I did buy chocolate—the creamiest, milkiest chocolate I could find.

But here is today, one more day, a miracle no matter how you look at it.   

How would you spend your last day on earth?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #12

Amazing that the week has gone by so fast and it’s another Book Blurb Friday already!  If you are unfamiliar with Book Blurb Friday, please check out Writing in the Buff, where Lisa Ricard Claro provides us with a weekly fictional book cover. The challenge is to write an accompanying blurb of 150 words or less. Mine for this week came in at 149 words. And welcome to new blog follower Liz Davis! Thanks so much and hope you visit often!

 ~Contra Band~
2111 A.D.: Funding for education has been cut so much (because who cares about children who can’t vote?) there are no longer any teachers—merely Educational Facilitators who screen for weapons and make sure that the children are getting their government-approved H-Tel Imagery lessons properly streamed into their nervous systems.

The arts are expendable, too, of course—except in certain government-approved E.C. Facilities—but art made of metal? Metal is too precious and must be used for important things like technology.

When sixteen-year-old Denver Bishop and his fourteen-year-old sister Fantom move to a new subcity, however, they find a storage facility for antique art that somehow missed being surrendered to the government…and there they find old-fashioned musical instruments thought to exist only in museums. Will Denver, Fantom and their friends be able to learn to play in secret? Or will the government find out and destroy it—and them?

Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang but the best. ~Henry Van Dyke

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Improper Poll: Taboo Love

Here’s the thing. I am positively known for being conservative in some ways…especially when it comes to dress. Still, I harbor a secret love of…don’t tell…tacky watches. How they twist and curl, some of them quite literally snake-like, whispering “pick me” to some inner yearning!

Recently I found the mother of all tackiness. It beckoned from its eBay page, drawing me back again and again for stolen glances at this, my porn of the wrist. And there it was, so beguiling in its size, its sheer glittery-ness. And the colors!

I am weak, I admit it. When I gave in and ordered it, I was trying to fool myself into believing that maybe I could sneak it into normal life, tuck it under a sleeve so no one would know.

When it arrived, it had been shipped all the way from Hong Kong in a little box covered in stamps. Cost of shipping? Five dollars. How can that be? At that price I can’t help but picture somebody paddling very fast on a raft.

And then…oh, gracious. It is the hoochy-coochy dancing watch of all time, this glob of gaudy goodness. But worse—much worse—is the size. Huge, yes, but the hinged metal cuff size is made for Asian women. And although I am very small boned for an American of European decent, it puts me in sadistic watch-bondage, cutting off the circulation and corseting me in like Scarlett, leaving my wrist in an hourglass shape that would put Marilyn herself to shame.

Alas, I may have to come up with another use for it, such as decorating yet another thing on my desk. Still, I know that I just can’t give it away. So here it is.  Not the best shot, maybe, but it's surprisingly hard to photograph your own wrist.  You can see that it is creating dual muffin-tops on my wrist, which I had previously thought was about the only relatively fat-free body part I had.  I can't even show you the front.  I am too ashamed.
Do you have an object you love and just can’t explain why?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #11

What annoys me most about Blogger’s being unavailable this week is that it just happened to coincide with the times that I was. So now I have some major catching up to do. Am starting with Lisa Ricard Claro’s Book Blurb Friday—a meme which challenges readers to come up with a blurb of 150 words or fewer to go with a fictional book cover. I barely made it this week at exactly 150 words (not counting the title):

~Buried Past~

Eva Leighton led a quiet life. So quiet, in fact, that researching her family tree seemed like the perfect hobby.

But when her research uncovered a mysterious ancestor who shared her first name, Eva was driven to learn more. This other Eva had roared during the Roaring Twenties and then seemingly vanished. That she turned out to be her biological great grandmother was the least of Eva’s surprises.

Unidentified bones of a woman had been found in the Mojave desert, buried near a rusted Model A Ford. Eva transformed into a sleuth who, together with the handsome detective who was willing to reopen a very cold case, had uncovered far more than a family secret.

Eva had unearthed her great grandmother’s murder. But who had killed her? As she worked to learn more, it became clear that Eva’s life would never be quiet again. In fact, would history repeat itself?

“In the desert, an old monk had once advised a traveler, the voices of God and the Devil are scarcely distinguishable.” ~Loren Eiseley

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Improper Poll: Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Mother

When I was pregnant with my first child, I naively believed that I would have soap opera children. You know—clean, quiet children who make an occasional appearance and stare in rapt attention while being taught valuable mom things? And then they would go nap.

If you are a seasoned mother, and even if you are not, you are now cringing because you know that God got me back for that big time. Ha ha! That silly God sure has a sense of humor!

As soon as my children were born, and in some ways before, they promptly taught me these things:
1. I am an utter and complete idiot who knows nothing.
2. My children do not belong to me. They taught me they belonged to themselves even clear back when my abdomen woke me up in the middle of the night for the nightly kidney-pummeling.
3. We have more to learn from our children than we have to teach them. If we’re lucky.
4. My children were the only ones I knew who did not nap from age two on. Ever. And they did this not merely just to torture me, but as direct punishment for wanting soap opera children.
5. I would not have a good night’s sleep again for the better part of a decade, and then they would interrupt my sleep again when they hit adolescence. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to sleep again.
6. I need to remember that the most valuable words I can utter as a mother are, “What do you think?” I should probably carry a roll of duct tape for my mouth along with my own private cue card printed with those words, because it’s surprisingly hard for me to remember.
7. When you are a new mother, and some older woman gasps and says (with judgmental horror), “Oh, I see you do it that way? Well, I guess the baby will be okay,” learn to laugh and ignore her. (And Lord help me never to be that woman!)
8. The best advice I ever got on mothering came from a parenting magazine, and I wish I could remember the author. It was to say these words when the child whines: “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand that voice. Could you talk in your real voice, please?"
9. Mothers don’t really teach. At best, we guide. But mostly we just love, and that is the best lesson there is.
10. I may be an utter and complete idiot who knows nothing, but still, by the absolute grace of God and lots of prayer and a few understanding friends, I still managed to get great children.

So today’s Improper Poll question is:
What have you learned either as a mother or from your mother?  Happy Mother's Day!

Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. ~Ambrose Bierce

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #10

This week I am especially grateful for Writing in the Buff’s Book Blurb Friday, in which Lisa Ricard Claro presents her readers with a fictional book cover as a challenge to come up with a blurb of 150 words or less to go with it.

This is my second blurb for this picture. The first one I wrote went with a children’s series I (literally) dreamed up years ago. And now, thanks to Ms. Ricard Claro, I am seriously thinking about getting back to it. So many, many thanks to her already! Whether I really do get back to that book or not, it’s been a lot of fun to think about again.

Anyway. I put that one away for now and came up with this one, trimmed and chopped and hyphenated to a mere149 words (not counting the title):

~The Miracle of Esterbrook Pond~
Ten-year-old Ray-Hope Fenwick made a discovery out by Esterbrook pond: a lady that only she could see appeared in the fountain every morning. What’s more, the lady told Ray-Hope that she would perform one miracle on May 6, 2011. Ray-Hope was so convincing that the crowds began to gather. Who would receive the miracle? And what’s more, who should?

Would it be Milos San Raphael, wealthy businessman seeking a cure for his Lou Gehrig’s before the disease progressed? Or the humble Grady family, hoping to heal their child? Would land-owner Elmore Esterbrook cash in on the water? And if the waters were miraculous, why didn’t little Ray-Hope cure her own brother of his autism?

Or had the child simply made it all up?

Follow twelve families in this masterpiece of good and evil as they struggle in the fountain’s waters…and discover for yourself the true miracle of Esterbrook.

(P.S. May the miracle today be yours!)

Our whole business therefore in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen. ~Saint Augustine

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grief Divided

It was a beautiful day when I stood behind her in the Walmart line. She had a false-cheerful tone to her voice that bothered me without reason. And then I realized there was a reason. I knew that voice.

I always seem to get the worst news on a beautiful day. I’ve looked longingly out hospital windows at a flawless afternoon, where the birds kept on singing and the sun kept on shining from a startlingly blue sky as if to say, “No, everything’s fine with us, thanks!” Meanwhile, my own life slumped in agony at my feet.

Funerals for me have never been like in the movies, where umbrellas seem to sprout from the gloom like black flowers. In my life, the day has always been heartbreakingly beautiful as if to taunt me. The message is the same: Life goes on. You are alone.

Some of the greatest beauty in my life has been refracted through tears, like looking through glass blocks, because of course it’s not really crying if you hold your eyes wide open and refuse to let the tears spill out. We can’t be expected to bother others with our grief when it isn’t theirs to bear. That woman’s voice made me ache. It’s the voice I’ve forced out of my own mouth when something horrible had happened and I was struggling to function normally in a world that was lucky enough not to have to share my pain.

I looked up, and for just a split second, our eyes met. The abject agony I saw in her eyes at that second haunted me, haunts me still. She had Prison Camp Eyes.

I’m still upset, though I’ll never know for what we grieved, are grieving. I’m sending her my best wishes. I want her to know that life doesn’t really go on, unconcerned. Sometimes it stops and grieves too because it knows that we are all in this together. After all, we’re really only taking turns.

You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not. ~Epictetus

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Improper Poll: It’s a Drag

Is there a small thing that you’ve really regretted? I don’t mean big things, but those little chances you passed up and now regret?

In my last Book Blurb Friday post, I mentioned a character who was a female impersonator. This reminded me of the time I passed up attending a “Miss Drag Queen” contest. It was held after the bars closed. I opted not to go because my children were young then and I was perpetually tired in those days.  But now I have to ask myself what tiredness is compared to an opportunity like that. Throughout all of the years since, I’ve thought of that as one of the adventures I’m most sorry I passed up in life, because how often does a straight Midwestern suburban mom—especially one who writes—get to attend a drag queen pageant? And this was in Omaha, so it was in fact a Nebraskan drag queen pageant. Let’s face it: life just doesn’t get much better than that.

I had gone to a party with my sister, who is involved in community theatre. The party was held by two gay men who hadn’t come out until after both were married with children. So they divorced their wives and began a less traditional blended family with about five children between them, sort of like the Brady Bunch, only with a male Carol. Very cool party, too—they had a mini-amusement park set up for the children and a mini gambling casino set up for the adults. Gamboling and gambling, ar ar.

Anyway. Is there anything in life you passed up and now regret?