When Your Baby is a Philanthropist/Getting Behind my Daughter’s Kilimanjaro Climb

Picture by Wolfgang Piecha  Click here to see more of his photos.

“Mom, I’m climbing Kilimanjaro in August with Team Fox to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease!”

“Say what?” I asked, feeling faint and almost dropping the phone I held.

“You heard me.”

“I’m not sure I did,” I replied, white knuckling the phone. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No, I know where it is.”

“Fine. Go get it and bring it back home to me so I can talk some sense into it.”

“Oh, Mmmooom. You’re so dramatic. “

My babe conquering Machu Picchu.

Okay, so the kid may have a point. It’s probably a little excessive for me to be suffering multiple panic attacks at the thought of my baby girl climbing Kilimanjaro. She likes hiking up large mountains, and climbed Machu Picchu a few summers ago. 

Now, lest you think I’m a nut job, let me assure you, I’ve every right to be nervous. My girl’s fearlessness has often gotten her into trouble before.                                                                           

Can I confide in you? Good, cause I’m going to. My darling baby daughter has given me fits since the day she became mobile. (Eye twitch).

My little nugget at age three.

You think I’m kidding? I’m totally not. I’ll just touch on a few highlights.

When she was two, I had to give her the Heimlich Maneuver when she climbed onto a counter after supper one night and crammed a whole hotdog into her mouth and choked. Then the there was the time, at age three, she dove off a chair and broke her clavicle while watching the olympic diving events. A year later I rescued her from the bottom of our swimming pool and so forth and so on until well after college. (Sigh. Good thing for her I was a nurse before I ever became a writer.)

And the pièce de résistance, she fell four stories off a roof and into a dumpster at college and was fortunately not paralyzed!

What was she doing on a roof? She was having a snowball fight, of course. Duh. Why on earth else would she be on a roof? Don’t all young adults move snowball fights from the ground to the sky in college? (I should have known then, this child was going to keep on climbing things whether I liked it or not).

Despite my anxiety about her bold new endeavor, I am so proud of the kind, generous, compassionate young woman she has become. She is amazing and I love her so much!

She is determined not only to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, but to also raise 10,000$ to give to Parkinson’s research. She has raised 8,300$ towards her goal and she’s almost there!

Lara’s (a.k.a. the baby’s) fundraising page

If you’d like to contribute even 10$, she’d be ever so grateful! If you can’t give money, I’d really appreciate you sharing this blog post all over social media.

She is determined to succeed and I know she will.

I, however, will probably be seeing my family doctor for a small prescription of Valium while she’s gone, because I’m afraid deep breathing and meditation are just not going to cut it for the babe’s latest adventure!

Veragua Rainforest Reserve & Adventure Park/Rainforest Experience Extraordinaire

It took one hour from Puerto Limon by bus to reach a veritable ecological paradise, the Veragua Rainforest!

There were plenty of other shore excursions offered by our cruise line that we could have taken in Costa Rica, so why did the hubster and I decide to visit the Veragua Rainforest Reserve and Adventure Park?

  1. Visiting a rainforest was on our bucket list. Naturally, we wanted to visit the rainforest touted as the “creme de la creme of rainforests” by the National Geographic Traveler.
  2. When we found out that the Veragua Rainforest borders the 479,000 acre La Amistad International Park, which is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a national heritage site for humanity, it really was a no brainer. (If UNESCO considers the area to be of outstanding value to humanity, well … who are we to argue?) La Amistad International Park is the second largest and most remote nature reserve in Central America. Half the park is located in Costa Rica and the other half is in Panama. Much of La Amistad has not yet been explored because the terrain is less than hospitable.

The day we spent in the pristine Veragua Rainforest and Research Reserve did not disappoint, in fact, it was more than remarkable … it was magical! I only have pictures, but I wish I could have captured the smells and sounds of the rainforest for you as well.

Jumping off the bus, we entered the welcome center. Informative signs in Spanish and English greeted us while we waited for our guides.

Most of the park is wheelchair and stroller accessible via elevated wooden planks.

 

RAINFOREST RULES! Pay attention to the sixth line down. It says: Do not touch the plants, there could be insects or snakes within the vegetation.

                                                                                                                                        Let me introduce you to our guide for this rainforest adventure, Dennis Quiros Vargus, an amazingly patient, kind, generous, knowledgable, and all around excellent human being. He’s been instrumental in this blog post, making sure I’ve got the right names and information to give you.

In this picture Dennis is telling us about the orchids growing on the trunk of this tree. An orchid is a common example of an epiphyte, which are simply plants that live over other plants on their branches, trunks or other raised surfaces. These epiphytic orchids cling to the host plant’s bark with tuberous roots and absorbs nutrients from rain and debris which collects around them. Another common example of an epiphyte would be Spanish Moss.

First up was a visit to the Reptile Habitat. Iguanas, lizards and snakes, oh my! I have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of snakes. I have a healthy respect … fear … okay, a downright phobia of snakes, but I’m working on it. I didn’t take a lot of pics here because when we got to the snakes, I buzzed right through it so I wouldn’t faint.

 

On our way to the frog habitat some red leaf-cutter ants were marching along in single file carrying big chunks of leaves.

The ants “saw” off pieces of plants that they carry back to their huge underground nests. They tuck the bits of leaves into their tunnels and wait for a certain type of fungus to grow on the leaves. The fungus is their source of food.

 

The latin name of this flower is Cochliostema odoratissimum from the Spiderwort family. The plants themselves are epiphytes, though they will grow terrestrially if they happen to fall from their host tree. This one was on the ground. A popular ornamental plant, the flowers are deep violet-blue and very fragrant. The leaves have a rosetta pattern. In botany, a rosetta is a circular arrangement of leaves. This plant can collect and retain rainwater in its crevices.

Did you miss anything in that last picture?

I’ll bet you did. Here, let me enlarge it for you.

I didn’t catch this little tree boa curled up inside the plant in the above picture either, but, I assure you, Dennis did, and he pointed the little bugger out to our group. The snake is hiding his big old head in his coils.

The latin name of the snake is Corallus annulatus and it is not poisonous. (Thank the Lord!)

Annulated tree boas have strong prehensile tails so they can easily move about the treetops. These boas also have the ability to change color and are capable of extreme changes in pigmentation. They can change from a dark brown color to a shade of pale gray in very short periods of time.

Next up was the frog habitat. It was fabulous!  Because most frogs are nocturnal, Veragua has an exhibit where day is artificially turned into night so people can observe their little froggy friends without venturing out into the rainforest at night.

I fell in love with Agalychnis callidryas, a red-eyed frog species that lives in small creeks in and around the Veragua Rainforest. They like to call this frog Ruthie the Rufi.

I love frogs and I caught a lot of them when I was a kid so I could kiss them. (Don’t ask.) However, I learned it is probably best to leave frogs alone in the rainforest unless you’re an expert.

The golden poison dart frog or phyllobates terribilis color pattern is aposematic, which means it has a conspicuous warning coloration to alert predators of its toxicity. Its skin is covered in a dense alkaloid toxin. In captivity, poison frogs lose their toxicity when deprived of certain foods, but a wild-caught poison frog can retain alkaloids for years.

(Good to know.)                                                                                                             Next we were off to the Butterfly Garden, where gorgeous winged beings fluttered all around us! If anyone has read my book, Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom, you’ve read about the butterfly conservatory I created inside of the fictitious Cliff House. I’m lucky enough to live near the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield, Massachusetts, which is my sanctuary in the cold northern winter months of the year, and it always inspires me.

This Blue Morpho Butterfly thought the hubster’s schnoz was the perfect landing pad.

We watched in delight as the butterflies  flitted and floated gracefully among their native flora. Then we visited a glassed in research lab where scientists study the many wondrous creatures of the rainforest.
This Blue Morpho Butterfly landed on the hubster’s nose. It’s latin name is Morpho peleides. With its wings folded, it is perfectly camouflaged for the rainforest floor where it spend much of its time.

 

 

 

This is the Blue morpho with its wings open. It’s one of the largest butterflies with a wing span of 5 to 8 inches.

 

 

This beautiful plant was located in the butterfly enclosure. The latin name is Pachystachys lutea, the common name is the Golden Shrimp Plant. It is native of Peru, but also very common in tropical and subtropical regions.

 

 

 

We grabbed a yummy lunch at the Veragua Rainforest Cafe, before heading off to take our aerial tram ride to the Victoria River Canyon floor with Dennis still faithfully pointing out thrilling things for us to see.

 

 

 

This is a tree fern belonging to the family of Cyatheaceae. These are the world’s tallest tree ferns. They can reach 32.8 ft tall. Some groups of tree ferns are very ancient and date back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The trunk of these ferns are often used by epiphytes.

 

 

 

This view of the Veragua Rainforest was so spectacular, it took my breath away!

Dennis Quiros Vargus and Julian Solano.

 

 

Here’s our guide Dennis and his friend, Julian Solano, the resident butterfly expert waiting with us at the aerial tram station.

 

 

 

 

 

This ride was so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No I didn’t take this picture. t really wanted to see one of these little beauties though! A three-toed sloth. I would have taken a two-toed sloth as well. I wasn’t fussy! I think they are the cutest little furry creatures on this planet! Kirsten Bell may be the only other person alive that is as crazy about sloths as I am!!!

Although our guide pointed a sloth out to us in the tree tops, it was too hard for my untrained eye to spot.

I’ve blown this picture up a million times looking for it, but I just can’t find it.

Did you know sloths have the slowest metabolism in the world and only climb out of the tree tops to go to the forest floor to defecate every thirty days. (I’m full of … fun facts, aren’t I?)

 

 

This is our tram coming in for a landing on the floor of the Victoria River Canyon.

We chose to take the Puma Waterfall Trail which took us to a 65 foot two-tiered waterfall. We saw so many interesting things along the way!

 

 

Wild bananas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eighty to ninety percent of the mass inside a wild banana is comprised of big hard seeds. Once you dig the seeds out out of the banana, there isn’t much free pulp to eat. The bananas we eat in North America have been cultivated to be free of these seeds.

 

 

 

Here you can see a bud emerging from the trunk of a wild banana plant which had been cut down. The latin name is Musa acuminata, the family is Musaceae. Wild bananas are the progenitors of the commercial bananas we eat around the world today.

 

 

Giant trees were everywhere. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This tree is an example of the Dussia macroprophyllata which can grow up to 130 feet tall (40 meters high). Isn’t she magnificent?

 

 

 

 

 

Here is our group heading to the Puma Waterfall.

 

 

 

 

There are about 150 steps (up and down) to climb to get to the waterfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This old Momma made it to the observation deck of Puma Falls, a little overheated, but still smiling.

 

 

 

The latin name for this plant is Heliconia longa, otherwise known as a Hanging Lobster Claw. They are the perfect host flowers for birds as they produce a sweet nectar. Hummingbirds especially love them. Also the flowers are popular with florists and are used in flower arrangements.

 

 

 

Here is another Heliconia plant, the latin name is Heliconia rostrata. In Costa Rica there are 35 naturally occurring species of Heliconia. There are 200-250 species of Heliconia found throughout Central and South Americas.

 

 

Even the rocks are amazing in this rainforest. I am saving this for a writing exercise to do with some creative writing students. I found inspiration every where I looked in Veragua.

 

 

 

Dennis told us that it is common to find different colored spots on the trunks of trees in the rainforest. These are lichens, a composite organism that arises from algae living among the filaments of fungi. It it a symbiotic relationship, which is an obligatory biological interaction between two species. An obligatory relationship means that one or both organisms depend entirely on the other for survival, and there is a mutual benefit for each of them. In the lichen, the algae produce the energy from the sunlight and the fungus provides water and protection.

Zamia neurophyllidia is the host plant for the butterfly Eumaus godartii. The plant is found in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua, although it is threatened by habitat loss by human activities. I guess I can actually understand why people wouldn’t want them in their yard or close to their houses because all parts of this plant are poisonous to animals and humans if ingested. These plants are toxic because they produce cicasin, which causes liver and kidney failure, as well as eventual paralysis. No treatment for the poisoning is currently known. (Aye yi yi!)

In the center of the Zamia plant around the cones, you can see the colorful red and yellow caterpillars, which belong to the Lycaenidae family. This insect can feed on leaves of the zamia and is able to keep and use the plant’s toxins to defend itself from predators. Notice the aposematic coloring screaming danger, danger, danger! (It really is kind of nature to warn us, isn’t it?)

Let’s end with a few more beautiful plants and some lessons from Dennis.

 

This plant is a Calathea sp (sp means an unknown species). It comes from the family Marantaceae, which are very commonly used as ornament plants. It is popular for the different tones of green in front of the leaves and for the purple coloration on the backs of the leaves.

 

 

 

This flower is Conostegia sp, and the Costa Ricans call it Cow’s tongue for the texture of the leaves. When the fruits ripen, they are popular with many species of birds.

 

 

 

The latin name for this plant is Alpinia purpurata, the common name is Red Ginger. Isn’t it gorgeous? The family of ginger plants is Zingiberaceae. Ginger can be grown as a houseplant and its cut flowers can be use in many types of flower arrangements.

 

 

 

This last beauty is Lantana camera, of the variety Sanguinea. It is a naturalized species found in the tropics. The humid conditions and hot temperatures in tropical regions make it the perfect habitat for this plant. It is one of the favorite plants for many species of butterflies and for that reason is fairly common in gardens in Costa Rica.

The hubster and I were so impressed with how the Veragua Rainforest staff and founders have gone out into the local communities and taught the people there the importance of biodiversity. They spend time educating and encouraging the communities to conserve and preserve their amazing local resources.

In addition, since opening on July 4th, 2008, the Veragua scientists and researchers have discovered almost a dozen new rainforest species. Isn’t that amazing? We had to donate to this worthwhile cause and plan to continue to support them in the future.

My biggest take home lesson from my day in the rainforest: When I see something brightly colored and pretty in the rainforest, it means I probably shouldn’t touch it. Like the big red stop signs in our country, aposematic coloring means stop!

At the end of the day, I said to the hubster, “I’d come back to Veragua in a heartbeat, and the next time I do, I want to do the canopy zipline tour.”

“Of course you do, and just to be clear, you’ll be entirely on your own that day.”

“Where is your sense of adventure?” I asked.

“I’d say it’s located much closer to the ground than yours,” he said.

Oh, hubster. You tickle me. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is so going zip lining with me.

On the Way to the Veragua Rainforest Costa Rica/Let the Adventure Begin

On March 16, 2017, after two days at sea, I flung open the sliding glass door leading out onto our cruise ship balcony to catch my first glimpse of Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Looking down to the right, I found a bustling dock and no one had even disembarked our ship yet. The folks down there were just waiting on customs to clear the ship so they could whisk the passengers off on their shore excursions.

I can’t begin to explain how excited we were to go on our first shore excursion. Neither the hubster or I had ever been to Central America.

Our tour buses were waiting for us on the docks and we were off!  We had chosen the Veragua Rainforest excursion which would involve a one hour trek inland. The night before I was a bit apprehensive about such a long ride on a bus, but my anxiety was needless. Our guide, Monica was amazing and so informative. It truly felt like we were only on the bus for fifteen minutes.

As we departed the dock, Monica pointed out the tiny island off the coast of Puerto Limon. She mentioned the island had many names in the past, but originally it was known as Quirbri by the indigenous people living along its coastline. In 1986 the name was officially changed back to Isla Quiribri, but it is seldom used, and the locals still referred to the island as Isla Uvita.

Monica said the Island was famous because in September of 1502 Columbus landed there when he discovered Costa Rica on his fourth and final voyage. On this voyage Columbus had set out to discover a passageway west into the orient. (Spoiler alert: Most of his crew died, all his ships were lost and no passage to the west was ever found. Total bummer, CC!)

Someone on our bus asked if Columbus named Costa Rica, and Monica hedged. “Maybe,” she said. “It is argued that either Columbus or Gil Gonzalez Davila, a spanish conquistador, gave Costa Rica its name. The only thing we’re sure of is that Costa Rica means “rich coast” in spanish.”

Monica brought a wealth of things along with her for our education and entertainment. Did you know chocolate comes from a fruit? (You might want to store that fun fact away for trivia night.) This is a cacao fruit that she passed around. It is roughly the size of a squash and reddish brown on the outside. The cacao beans are surrounded by a sweet white pulp which the locals like to ferment and drink. The brown beans inside are dried to make CHOCOLATE! Like any fruit, there are different varieties and each fruit will produce a different tasting chocolate bean. (Who knew???)

 

We got to try some different bags of of criollo cacao from a manufacturer who farms, dries and caramelizes the beans in Puerto Limon. It was a very crunchy, interesting snack that the whole bus enjoyed sharing together.

 

 

 

 

Now for another fun item! A nutmeg fruit! Of course, this is where nutmeg comes from, but did you know, mace, another type of spice, is made from the dried lacy reddish covering of the nutmeg seed? (I certain did not!)

 

 

 

This is the nutmeg and mace as it dries.

 

 

 

 

And did you know bananas do not grow on trees? (For real. I’m serious. They don’t.) Bananas come from the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world. (I know! How could I have lived so long and not have known that?) This is a banana flower with all its little baby bananas.

 

 

 

And finally … this is turmeric, another spice and the root of plant. Turmeric is another powerful antioxidant. (Any one getting the hint here that Monica is into health and wellness?)

 

 

 

On the rest of our journey Monica pointed out fruit companies and the typical “tico” houses. (Native Costa Ricans called themselves ticos.) She told us that  ticos make the best beans and rice on the entire planet and they have a much simpler, slower way of life. Costa Ricans have no army and are very proud of that. It was dissolved back in 1948. (Color me shocked to learn the United States will step in and fight for Costa Rica if need be.)

She went on to say Costa Ricans are less materialistic than other societies and are a truly diverse bunch … multicultural, multiracial, and multilingual. (Immigrants from China, Africa, and Jamaica, some willingly and some not so willingly, came to work on the railroad, banana plantations, and coffee plantations.)

Mostly the houses are cinderblock covered by plaster with low ceilings and small windows. The roofs are made from sheets of tin and it is very noisy when rains, but Monica says she loves it. Some of the older houses have been built with wood, but wood molds and rots very quickly in the tropical climate of Costa Rica.

She had great personal advice for us as well. She assured us it would keep us strong and vital especially when we hit our elder years:

  1. Do something fun or enjoyable everyday. (She suggested a piece of chocolate made only from 70% cacao for its antioxidant values.)
  2. Laugh at least once a day.
  3. Learn something new every single day.

Then we arrived in the rainforest. It was lush and breath-taking. Just before we got off the bus, Monica told us to be careful where we put our feet and hands in the rainforest, due to bullet ants and snakes. (She said if a bullet ant bites you it will feel as if you have been shot and the pain lasts for a very long time.) Terrific. Good to know.

“Stay on the marked trails and always listen to your guides in Veragua,” she admonished.

“What does the name Veragua mean in spanish?” asked one of the bus riders.

“People always ask that question,” she said. “Veragua doesn’t have a translation.The Central American countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama were all grouped together and called Veragua under spanish rule. Speculations abound, but there is no definitive answer.”

Laden with advice, we entered the Veragua Rainforest and met our guide.

(Next post: Veragua Rainforest and pics!)

 

Underwear in the Ocean: Joy to the Fishes in the Deep Blue Sea/Or What Not to Leave on your Cruise Ship’s Balcony

This is us on our 34th wedding anniversary.

 

The hubster and I just got back from a wonderful eleven-day anniversary cruise. We’ve been married a long, long time. Yeppers. Thirty-four years to be exact, but we’ve actually been a “thing” for thirty-six years now. Isn’t he the cutest?

This is us on our wedding day.

 

It was a truly terrific way to celebrate. I ask you, “Is there really anything not to love when you’re on a luxury liner cruise ship traversing a vast blue expanse decorated with frothy white spume?”

 

 

(Shhhh. That was a rhetorical question.)

 

 

That being said, I’d like to offer a few suggestions regarding a cruise ship’s balcony, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Helpful Hint #1) A sunrise breakfast is one of the loveliest ways to enjoy your balcony when you’ve got an early shore excursion.

 

 

Helpful Hint #2) Do not EVER leave underwear, bathing suits or towels out to dry on your balcony when you are in port. Dry them in your cabin or in your bathroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why? Well … it’s not just because it’s an eyesore. It’s because when you get back from your amazing shore excursion absolutely exhausted and scurry away to an early dinner you may forget to take these items inside before your ship leaves for its next port-of-call.

Exactly why is that such a problem?

Relax. I’m about to tell you from first hand experience. It’s a problem because if your ship sets sail and you have forgotten aforementioned items on the balcony, I assure you they will not be there when you return. Ships travel fast, seventeen to twenty knots an hour, and as a result it is not unusual for a wind vortex to suck things right up and off your balcony.

Luckily for me, I’d brought several other bathing suits with me because I discovered my two piece had suddenly became a one piece after we returned to our room later in the evening, and, fortunately for the hubster, he’d brought along quite enough underwear so that he didn’t mourn the loss of the one that went missing in the ocean.

“At least our towel just blew onto the floor of the balcony,” I said to the hubster, feeling quite miserable about our faux pas.

“That’s great. It’s such a relief to know that only our intimate apparel is now residing at the bottom of the sea,” he said, shaking his head at me. “It was stupid, but we shouldn’t let this ruin our cruise. I’m sure we’re not the first people to have made this mistake and we won’t be the last.”

I grimaced. “I should have remembered to take those things off the balcony as soon as we got back here today. I can’t believe we just polluted the ocean like that. I feel soooo bad. I hope the fishes don’t eat the clothes and get sick.”

The hubster gave an evil smirk. “I’d like to think that right at this moment, there’s a hot mermaid down there rocking your old bathing suit top.”

“This is no laughing matter. Stop it!” I protested.

“Fine, but I think you’ll find it’s better than thinking about a merman swimming around in my gray underpants.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

True dat, hubster. True dat!

 

Madonna’s F-Bombs Tipped Me Over the Edge/But Ben & Jerry Saved Me

Most of the time I can give Wonder Woman and Superwoman a run for their money. I keep a dozens of balls up in the air on a daily basis and juggle them effortlessly (If I do say so myself), but over the last couple months, fate dealt me several blows which I”m still trying to recover from. On the surface, I handled everything well, but underneath my emotions were running unchecked and amuck.

Today, during CNN’s coverage of the Women’s March on Washington, the undercurrent of stress and fatigue finally reached its zenith and I spiraled into a cataclysmic meltdown worthy of a belligerent toddler. Thank you, Madonna, for tipping me past the point of no return.

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Stress is a terrible thing. Exhibit A.

Sprawled on the kitchen floor, I sobbed over the bucket of soapy water I was using to wash the floor, and loudly berated Madonna for her use of undignified language on national television. Happening onto the situation, the hubster tried to retreat, but he wasn’t fast enough to get away.

“I see you,” I bellowed.

“I was afraid of that,” he said. “If you’re trying to fill that bucket, I’d recommend using the faucet.”

I glowered at him, trying to scorch holes in him with my eyes. Most of the time his Asperger’s retorts don’t have much of an effect on me, but today he was in trouble and he knew it, too.

“You aren’t funny. You’re supposed to ask me what’s wrong … and everything is wrong! I burned dinner and set off the smoke alarm in the kitchen. I’ve been too busy to do any writing on Rafe Ryder or any social media posting in weeks. People are going to lose interest in my writing. Not to mention, the Women’s Marches for human rights and equality are turning into anti-Trump rallies and Madonna just dropped three f-bombs on CNN and … and … she said she’s thought about blowing up the White House. That’s crazy! I can’t support that type of nonsense. Why would she say something like that? ” I ranted.

“Uh … because she’s Madonna.”

“But that’s not classy behavior. It makes me so not proud of being a Democrat!” I wailed.

“I think you’re being excessively dramatic.”

“I am not. I just want everyone in America to get along with each other before we have another civil war.” I paused, partly for maximum effect, but mostly because I’d forgotten where I was going with my next thought. Still I couldn’t shut myself up. “You know what I need?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he said washing his hands over his face in frustration.

“I NEED a housekeeper,” I squalled. “Like Alice on The Brady Bunch.”

“Yeah … I was going go with mental health counselor … but okay.”

Ignoring his jab, I removed the rag from my bucket without wringing it out and sloshed water onto the floor. “The dogs won’t stop fighting. I stepped on bleach in my favorite red socks, so I have to wear these yucky black ones. I can’t get the moldy smell out of the washing machine … and I’m allergic to gluten.”

“Oh boy, we’re back to that gluten thing again. I see where this is going.”

“You’re not helping me. Do you know how hard it is not to be able to eat bread anymore?” I asked, bawling and scrubbing at the floor in front of me. “You’re supposed to act interested and talk to me about stuff … and ask me if anything else is bothering me.”

“Is there?”

“Of course there is! You have stupid lymphoma and now my dad has throat cancer, and I can’t deal with anything else right now, especially Madonna!”

“It’s no wonder you’ve got a stomach ulcer.”

“Yes, and it really, really hurts.”

Snapping a picture of me with his phone, the hubster executed an eye roll worthy of television.

“Why would you take a picture of me like this? You’re the worst.”

“Maybe you should talk to your doctor about some xanax.”

I gave the hubster my haughtiest scowl. “How dare you say something like that to me?”

“Fine, I’ll talk to my doctor about getting some xanax for me then.”

“Why can’t you be supportive of my feelings for once … just once?”

He shook his head helplessly. “I don’t know what you want.”

He had a valid point. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I didn’t actually know what I wanted either, so I went with the first thing that popped into my head.

“I. Want. To. Be. A. Mermaid.”

“Shoot me now,” said the hubster, lifting his eyes heavenward and pleading with a higher power.

“Mermaids don’t EVER have to wash floors!”

Pulling a spoon from the drawer next to him, he strolled over to the freezer, opened the door and produced a small carton of ice cream.

What are you doing?”

“Leaving you with the only two people capable of helping you at this point. Ben and Jerry.”

Sniffing, I momentarily feigned disinterest. “What flavor?”

“I call it, Magic Meltdown Management, but they call it Triple Caramel Chunk.”

Wiping my nose on the sleeve of my hoodie, I took the carton from his hands. “Ice cream makes me cough.”

“I don’t care. Just stop blubbering and eat it,” he said as he exited the room.

“Fine,” I whimpered, prying the cover off the ice cream. “I will.”

See. All better.

See. All better.

 

That’s the end of the story, and you can stop with the judgy side-eye now, people. Everyone meets his or her waterloo eventually. I’m no different. While I’d prefer to tell you I handled my emotional outburst with grace, mindfulness, and prayer, I have to tell you I ate my feelings first. After my ice cream coma was over, I snapped out of it and I am back to myself again.

Well played, hubster, well played.

 

Parenting in a Grocery Store/Bullies Beware

Grocery shopping is a chore, but, as a writer, I love it! If you keep your eyes and ears open, it’s a great place to find a new “character” and glean all kinds of wisdom.

I posted this encounter to my Facebook a couple of winters ago and thought I’d share it here today. Everyone who knows me, knows how much I despise bullying behavior of any kind, and it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I thought I’d share this hilarious tidbit with you. Personally, I think the mother involved handled the situation like a pro.gify

I was in the baking aisle of my local grocery store the other day when I noticed a mother with her teen daughter and preteen son in tow.

The mother and daughter were discussing the fact someone was cyber-bullying the teenager on social media.

“I’m sorry, honey,” the mother said. “That girl is a cowardly, hateful, mean child. It is best to ignore her. If she doesn’t get a reaction from you, it won’t be fun for her anymore. Don’t you worry, karma will eventually catch up with all the mean girls of the world.”

The daughter shrugged her shoulders and sighed. “I guess.”

“Screw that!” said the son. “I say we hunt her down, kill her and eat her!

“That does it!” exclaimed the mom, giving the boy a shut-up-we-are-in-public look. “I don’t care what your father says, you are not watching THE WALKING DEAD anymore!”

At this point, I’m bent over pulling some flour from the bottom shelf, chuckling as silently as I could, but the mother heard me anyway.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “He’s a good kid. I promise you he’s not the next Jeffery Dahmer.”

“Please, don’t apologize,” I said, still giggling.

“But it’s wrong on so many levels. So much for my dream of raising pacifists. I blame his father … and television,” she said, continuing down the aisle.

“But Mom,” called the boy from behind her. “It would stop bullies once and for all. Besides, I bet mean people taste delicious.”

“Okay, I’m pulling your teeth as soon as we get home,” said the mother in a calm tone.

I laughed so hard, it was difficult to stay on my feet. To this day I can’t help but wonder if mean people really do taste delicious. Kids say the darndest things. Gotta love em!

Protesting Outside the Home of a Ten Year Old Boy is One Step Too Far!

Whoa, whoa, whoa, America! 12bdb7ad-92c4-44a6-9afb-9ccd6dace79e

I want to talk to you as a mother, a nurse, a young adult author, and a Democrat.

I don’t mind one bit that some of you are exercising your right to protest the election of Donald Trump, but I do mind how you are going about it … protesting outside the residence of president-elect Trump in Manhattan. That is one step too far and over the line. Why? Because there is a child living there … a young child!!!

The majority of Trump’s children are adults and don’t live in Trump tower. They are grown and they are capable of understanding what is going on, but there is a little boy living inside that tower watching you, He is hearing you, and HE is probably terrified for his father. Does he have any rights at all or are your rights the only ones that matter?

How do his parents protect him from YOU while you stand outside of his residence protesting and yelling insults at his family?

What? You’re not bullying anybody, you’re only exercising your right to protest!

I disagree. (Chanting “Rape Melania” is unacceptable behavior and it is bullying!)

Come on, people! America is better than this, aren’t we? Donald Trump will know you’re upset wherever you decide to protest. You have a right to do that and I support you completely, but if you insist on standing outside of Trump tower, why can’t you stand there silently for the sake of that little boy? In my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be standing outside the home of someone with a small child shouting insults at his family anyway. (I’ll bet you a thousand dollars, Hillary Clinton and President Obama would agree with me).

I’m not okay with a child being caught in the middle of what you’re doing and none of you should be okay with that either! Think, people, think! You can protest without being outside the home of a small child.

ENTER TO WIN!/Contest Cover Drawing or Amazon Review Drawing For Fans of Rafe Ryder

rr_wellofwisdom_aAs most of you know, Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom is entered in a cover contest over at http://authorsdb.com/2016-cover-contest-results/22392-rafe-ryder-and-the-well-of-wisdom which ends October 15. If you haven’t voted yet … you still have time! Please help me show some serious love for my cover artist Jenny Zemanek. She is a dream to work with! You can find out more about her at http://www.seedlingsonline.com/

AND … BECAUSE RAFE RYDER FANS ARE EVERY SHADE OF AWESOME:

If you’ve voted for Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom in the cover contest over at authorsdb, you can send an e-mail to llreynoldsbooks@yahoo.com to win a signed book as well as a 25$ Amazon gift card. There will be five lucky winners drawn on October 16th.

ALSO … TO THANK YOU FOR THOSE AMAZING AMAZON REVIEWS:

If you’ve read Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom and have left me a book review on www.amazon.com/Rafe-Ryder-Well-Wisdom-Book/dp/0996931910, you’re eligible for a different drawing. This drawing you’ll win a signed copy of the book and a100$ Amazon gift card! This drawing will take place on November 20th, on the first anniversary of the series release. Just remember to e-mail me at llreynoldsbooks@yahoo.com to tell me you’ve left a review. There will be only one lucky winner. (I’m not rich yet, people! Give me time.)

AND … BECAUSE EVERYONE KEEPS ASKING:

Here’s some more exciting news. The second book in the Rafe Ryder series, Rafe Ryder and the BrushStroke of Time, is due out in May 2017. Mark your calendars!

Hot Flash Hell / Welcome to Crazy Town

 

Hot Flash Crazy Eyes

Hot Flash Crazy Eyes

I don’t know the way to San Jose and I can’t take you to Funky Town. Heck, unlike Rod Stewart and Gladys Knight, I can’t even find the Downtown Train or the Midnight Train to Georgia without Google Maps, but sadly, I am intimately familiar with how to get to Crazy Town courtesy of something called

H-O-T F-L-A-S-H-E-S.

In my younger years, I was mistakenly under the impression hot flashes would be a brief, but fun mini excursion to my own personal tropical paradise where a handsome guy named Sven would serve me umbrella drinks as I lounged by the pool.

Holy Cow, People! Was I ever wrong!!!!?

Wikipedia states and I quote, “Hot flashes (also known as hot flushes) are a form of flushing due to reduced levels of estradiol. They are typically experienced as a feeling of intense heat with sweating and rapid heartbeat, and may typically last from two to thirty minutes for each occurrence.”

Wikipedia’s explanation is woefully lacking. Here is my definition. “Hot flashes are a form of satanic punishment meant to encourage women to pray and beg for favors from the Almighty.”

My daily prayer: Dear God, Please, please, please, keep my hot flashes to a minimum of five, because I know you’re not a big fan of me saying swear words and such … and I’m working really hard on that … I promise. But these hot flashes are making it freakin’ impossible, Lord!

It goes without saying that woman with severe hot flashes should not own guns. Here is a list of things I would shoot during a hot flash.

  • The toilet which keeps stopping up in the bathroom
  • The treadmill which whispers “Thunder Thighs” whenever I pass it
  • The toaster oven which burns everything that goes into it
  • Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper for the worst ending ever
  • The telephone because it keeps emitting that annoying ringing sound

Hot flashes can also make your marriage a tricky business.

Let’s say the hubster does something really stupid …

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like this …

during one of your hot flashes.

Instead of handing him a broom and demanding he clean up his mess … in the back of my mind where Crazy Town is located, I’m contemplating going all Hannibal Lector on his nose. (I know …  I know. Crazy Town is not a nice place. Stop judging me!)

“Geez, you’re sour today,” he says, while I give him the evil eye for his heinous transgression.

“Are you kidding me? Stick your head, neck and shoulders into a 450-degree oven and not be able to remove them for ten minutes, Buster!” I reply, wanting to rip his eyebrows off his face. “You’re bound to be a little testy too.”

In my later years, I plan on being the old lady popping estrogen like tic tacs in the corner. Just leave me alone and walk on by when you see the crazy eyes and you’ll be all right. Maybe. *evil cackle*

The World of Dreams and the Two-headed Green-eyed Monster: Jealousy and Envy

I’ve heard it said that dreams reveal a person’s deepest desires and their deepest wounds, so in theory, by investigating the “stuff” of dreams, a person can gain a deeper understanding of their lives.

To which I’ve always said, “Meh!” Usually my dreams do nothing, but confuse me. They’re my own personal “Magical Mystery Tour.” Emphasis on the word mystery. That’s perfectly okay with me though. I’m of the opinion, some things just aren’t meant to be understood. However, last night my subconscious, determined to be heard, delivered a not so subtle wake-up call.

In my dream, I found myself trekking through a pristine jungle surrounded by hundreds of species of trees, plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, and the occasional marauding dinosaur, but I remained unflappable and poised. I traipsed through the undergrowth like a modern day Jane of the Jungle looking for water. Every jungle movie has a tranquil waterfall and a pool of refreshing water just waiting to be discovered. I was sure there had to be one here as well.

images-1 Try as I might though, I couldn’t locate a single jungle waterfall, or one drop of water. As evening fell, along with the mosquitoes, I wandered across a cave inhabited by a small group of Neanderthals who invited me to join their tribe.

Oh, why not? I was alone. Everyone needs a tribe, and a place to belong. So what if we were from different worlds? I love a good challenge. I’m in! (Besides I was thirsty and they had water.)

I set about adapting to my new tribe, determined to be a valuable, contributing member of the group. It didn’t go smoothly at first, but I have a strong streak of Pollyanna running through me, and I knew I could make it work!

While everyone else in the tribe painted animals on the cave walls, I drew a swirling and starry Van Gogh-esque night sky, which was met by disdainful guffaws from the men and scornful looks from the women, for what they regarded as my deliberate ineptitude for cave painting. I found myself banished to a very dimly lit portion of the cave to practice my “modern” art all on my own … but yay for me! At least I had my very own spot in the cave.

Having some musical ability, I tried to participate in the men’s nightly drum circle, but they refused to let me have a drum. There is more to music than just rhythm, so I made up a catchy tune and belted it out while they pounded on their drums. The tribe scowled and shook their heads to silence me, but I persisted until they wrestled me to the ground and covered my mouth with their hands to shut me up, but on the upside, they did allow me to hum, if I did so quietly. Another success! The tribe had met me halfway.

I possessed some ability as a storyteller, however, most, if not all, of my tales lost their sparkle when translated into the grunts and tongue clicks of my tribe’s Neanderthal language. Undeterred, I regaled the tribe with stories told in my own native language, complete with ridiculous pantomimes. They didn’t understand a blessed word I said, but I amused them, and that made me happy.

It didn’t take long for me to develop serious issues with the way Neanderthal men treated the women of our tribe. I’ve never been one to suffer mean, ungrateful, disrespectful men quietly, and I particularly resented the men telling me what contributions I’d be making to the tribe. I wanted to hunt, fish and do all the things the men did, but instead I was forced to cook, gather firewood, fetch water, sew furs together, and gather edible plants and berries. Uck! Boring!

I felt rebellion stir and rise up inside me. This would never do. I had no problem talking the Neanderthal women into a work strike until the men agreed to treat us with a modicum of dignity and kindness. To my surprise, the cavemen caved. I had expected them to beat down the rebellion with their clubs, but the cavemen were much smarter than they looked. Who would do the work they didn’t want to do if all the women were incapacitated? They saw the wisdom in change, and their newfound kindness worked like a healing salve on the hearts of the Neanderthal women. Another victory!

Although, I still wasn’t happy with the position women had been relegated to in our tribe and I lamented the sad lack of choices in our lives, my life was far more desirable than the life of the tiny, crying newborn infant by the fire that everyone totally ignored. I had joined the tribe several years ago, and couldn’t recall seeing the infant ever being held or fed. As impossible as it sounds, the baby remained a newborn, occasionally crying in a muted, pathetic tone. Every so often I’d try to pick the child up and comfort her, but the tribe would not allow it. My heart ached for the poor little thing.

One day when I could no longer stand it, I snatched the child and fled up a set of wooden stairs that had miraculously appeared. As I ran, each step disappeared after me so the Neanderthals couldn’t follow.

I found myself in a spectacular room of glass walls with modern conveniences, high up in the clouds looking down over the jungle canopy. Everything I needed to care for the baby and myself was contained in the spacious room. Here in this cloud fortress, I knew we were untouchable.

Delighted, I bathed and and dressed the baby in clothes for the first time in her life. The baby hadn’t made a sound since I picked her up off the cave floor, and I guess I thought she’d cry during her bath, but she seemed to love it. As I fed her a bottle and snuggled her close to me, she gazed at me, her eyes full of gratitude. I placed her in the middle of a kingsize bed to sleep and walked away to admire her from a distance as I had done with my own children years ago.

Right in front of my eyes the girl suddenly grew to about six months size and sat up by herself. Gaping in surprise, I watched as she continued to grow to the size of a one year old. She smiled at me and waved. Then she stood up, tottered over the bed, and off the edge before I could stop her.

By the time she reached the floor and walloped her head, she looked to be about two years of age. To my amazement, she didn’t cry when she cracked her head on the floor. She merely looked surprised and sat up with a smile on her face. What an unusual child!

She continued to grow at breakneck speed and was soon ready to begin Kindergarten. She’d disappear from the room in the clouds for a few hours each day to go to school and come back another year older each time she returned.

The girl displayed everything a mother could wish to see in her own child. She was compassionate, loving, thoughtful, genuine and honest. She had an innate curiosity about the world and her fearlessness scared me and delighted me at the same time.

As the years flew by, (and by years, I mean hours) I found her remarkably intuitive. She followed her gut, instead of her head and it never let her down. She remained positive and focused. She owned her successes and her mistakes. She didn’t see her mistakes as failures, but rather as chances to get things right the next time. If she didn’t like the direction she’d chosen for herself, she’d reverse course in a heartbeat and change it.

God knows the child did have her faults. She was a nervous little worrywart, and quite impatient at times. Not to mention, she was far too sensitive a soul for my tastes. The day her friend, Chelsea, had called her “A Miss Goody Two-Shoes” for not wanting to play a mean joke on another friend, she had cried all night long. I have to admit, my ears and I were happy to see her go to school the next day just to be rid of the sniffling. The girl would someday find out there were far worse things to be called in a lifetime than “A Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”

In a matter of two weeks, she stood before me as a young lady ready to go out into the world.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something for a long time now,” she said, winding a long dark lock of hair around her finger. “I’ve been having a problem with one of my friends. It’s been going on for as long as I can remember. When we were younger, Chelsea told me that I needed to stop entering the contests and competitions at school because I was hogging all the awards and winning everything. She said I was taking opportunities away from her. Every year, things just kept getting worse and worse between us. Now she gossips about me, talks behind my back, spreads rumors about me, and even tells outright lies about me. This week she told everyone that I have stolen every boy she has ever liked away from her. I can’t understand what is going on with her. I love her. I’d never treat her the way she treats me. What’s wrong with her? Why is she acting like this?”

GREEN_LIZARD(91995)“Ahhh, yes,” I said, wishing I wasn’t familiar with what was causing the problem between the two girls. “You’re talking about the two-headed green-eyed monster that some people learn to wield as weapons, called jealousy and envy. Two closely related words which carry different meanings … well at least to a writer, but other people use them interchangeably.”

She puckered her brow. “They’re not interchangeable?”

“No, not at all. Jealousy is about relationships. If you feel jealous of someone, it’s because you think they are taking away the attention or affections of someone who belongs to you, or someone you think should belong to you. On the other hand, if you are envious, you want something someone else has. Envy can be felt for material possessions as well as someone else’s achievements or stature. Everybody experiences jealousy and envy from time to time in varying degrees, especially if they compare themselves to others and come up short. Haven’t you ever felt jealous or envious of someone?”

“Not jealous, because I don’t have a boyfriend, and I don’t want one, but I’ve felt envious plenty of times. Last week, I wanted a pair of jeans like Miranda Peabody’s in the worst way.”

“That type of envy is fleeting and harmless,” I said, “but the type of envy that causes somebody to recruit people to participate in their anger and resentment of you … that is malicious and it is not okay. Inflicting pain on others because you’re in pain yourself is never okay. Do you understand me?”

The girl shook her head and scowled. “Of course, I do, and I wouldn’t do that to anybody. If you ask me, jealousy and envy seems like such a waste of time and energy. Nobody has it all. Nobody. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t sit around comparing myself to others all day. I’m not competing with anyone in life either … except maybe myself.”

“That’s a good philosophy to have, and I’m proud of you. People are all talented, gifted and unique in different ways. I don’t view life as a competition either.”

“I still don’t get it though,” said the girl. “When Chelsea does well, I’m happy for her. I celebrate her accomplishments. Why can’t she do the same for me? Instead of being happy for me, she makes me feel sad and ashamed for being smart, working hard, and winning things.”

“Many times girls outgrow this sort of thing, and its best to ignore it … unless their jealousy and envy become a pattern.”

“By now, I’m fairly confident Chelsea’s not going to outgrow it,” the girl said in a sad tone. “I’ve talked to her about how this makes me feel, but she’s more focused on how I make her feel. She thinks I need to be a better friend by not doing things or entering contests and competitions that she’s interested in, and if I want to continue to be her friend, I’m not even allowed to speak to any boy that she is remotely interested in either.”

“Well then,” I said. “You have a very difficult decision ahead of you. A true friend respects and celebrates your accomplishments with you. Instead of being discouraged by your successes, a true friend is motivated and inspired by them.”

The girl nodded her head. She seemed pleased that I understood.

I placed my hand on her shoulder and looked straight into her brown eyes and continued, “If you allow a friend like Chelsea to stay in your life, she’ll continue to diminish the quality of yours. You can’t allow her to erode your sense of self-worth. Forgive her, wish her well, let her go, and move on with your life.”

“It won’t be easy,” she said, “but I know I have to do it.

I pulled her close to me and hugged her tightly. “I know you can, and now you’re ready get out there in the real world.” I whispered. “I’ll miss you.”

The girl grabbed me, hugging me back so fiercely her body melted into mine, and she was gone. What? That was impossible! Wasn’t it?

I heard the girl’s familiar laugh and her voice was now inside my head. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It seems you’d forgotten who I was, so I stopped by to remind you.”

My whole body jerked and I was suddenly wide awake. For once, I didn’t need anyone to decode the dream for me. I woke up remembering who I really am. I woke up knowing that no one should ever, ever have to tolerate feeling bad about themselves, in order to make someone else feel better about themselves. I had forgotten that, too, but I never will again. The truth really can set you free.

Whac-A-Mole with Book Pirates / An Author’s Somewhat Amusing Take On Book Pirating

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Today I want to discuss pirates. No, not this type of pirate.

 

I rather enjoy this kind of a pirate. Arrrr! (Just look at that face … commanding yet wistful at the same time … but enough of Captain Jack. He always gets me off topic.)

I want to talk about book pirating! (Aaurgh!)giphy-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the past few days, I’ve discovered no less than eight sites offering free downloads of Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom. I find myself caught between congratulating myself that my work is now popular enough for pirates to want to steal and offering myself condolences for the theft.

Am I flattered?

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Am I angry?

Jennifer-Lawrence-Angry-Yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well mostly … but there are other feelings too, but those feelings involve me wearing my rose colored glasses. (Hold on while I put them on.)

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It feels totally awesome to have your book suddenly become popular! Let’s face it, who wants to be obscure? What author, doesn’t want hundreds, or even thousands of people reading their books? I know I do. I want readers to love the Rafe Ryder series.

 

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(Now taking the rose colored glasses off.) From a business standpoint, it makes me very sad. I have devoted so much time to Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom, and I’m currently working just as hard on the next book in the series. I’d really like to be paid for my work. Wouldn’t you?

There are websites offering free downloads of my book and still others are using mirror websites which redirect people to its main website, promising free downloads of my books for a certain amount of money, either for a month or for a lifetime. Most of these websites are scams that either steal your credit card info, put malware on your computer or both. It really bothers me that people are using my name and my book to scam others. (I can’t help it, I have a motherly heart, and I don’t want anyone’s credit or computer comprised. Both things have happened to the hubster and me, and it is not pleasant.)

PxcVUFv

 

 

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My author friends liken it to playing the Whac-A-Mole game, and it definitely feels like it.

I report one and three more pop up. It is an exercise in frustration.

I realize I’m not going to be able to stop most of them, and I’d much rather spend my valuable time writing versus chasing crafty literary pirates!

 

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I might just as well be banging myself in the head, but given my age, and the fact I’m in desperate need of every precious brain cell I still possess, I’ve decided against it.

 

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Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now, I’m going to go meditate and try to find my happy place.

 

It may take some time, but I shall meditate until I can handle any situation thrown my way, such as the one seen below. I live with the hubster, who has way more energy than I do (most of the time), so this happens more frequently than you’d think.

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The Secret to a Long Marriage/A Sense of Humor Charms and Disarms

IMG_4555The hubster and I celebrated thirty-three years of marriage on Sunday.  I think that qualifies me to offer a bit of advice to all you dewy-eyed young things still wallowing in connubial bliss. (Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but sooner or later connubial bliss gives way to connubial arguments.)

In order to survive this eventuality, you must always maintain your sense of humor. Repeat after me. “A sense of humor charms and disarms.” Got it? It really is that simple. Let me share an example from my own life.

Nine years and three kids into our marriage, the hubster and I moved to a new town. An experienced Labor and Delivery nurse, I found a part-time job in the local hospital’s Birthing Center. The only catch was … I needed to orient to the job full-time for six weeks, jumping around on all three shifts as needed.

It was a recipe for disaster from the beginning. The hubster had no idea what he was getting into when he offered to take over as many of my responsibilities as possible, so I could start my new job. Up to that point in our marriage, he had not realized how much I insulated him from the day to day mayhem created by three exuberant youngsters and their daily destruction of the house (in sometimes as little as fifteen minutes).

It was enormously difficult for all of us, and tensions mounted exponentially until one fateful day five weeks into my orientation. That morning, just before I started my shift, the hubster had finally had it with making lunches, taking the children to school, skipping out of work to pick them up, friends, activities, laundry, dishes, homework, baths, etc … and he lost it. He had a temper tantrum of magnificent proportions. I’d never quite seen the likes of it before. I didn’t say a word at the time, but I was beyond miffed that he felt so “put upon” and he knew it when I slammed the door on my way to work.

Every spare moment of the morning during my shift, I contemplated how to express my disappointment at his deplorable behavior. Then it came to me.

I ordered a dozen long-stemmed roses from a local florist shop and had them delivered to me at the Birthing Center. I made a few alterations to the flowers, put them back in the box and asked the Unit Secretary to drop them off at my hubster’s office on her way home that afternoon.

(The rest of the story I know from the hubster’s office manager)

“Oh,” said the hubster when he received the box of flowers. “Probably an apology from my wife. She was mad at me this morning”

Smiling, he tugged off the box top to find a dozen thorny stems sans flower tops.

The office manager peered over his shoulder into the box. “I’d say apparently, she still is. “What does the card say?”

“The card says, “To the thorn in my side, Love your wife,” he read solemnly.

The whole office erupted in laughter, my husband included.

So you see, young lovers, (wherever you are) it is in your best interest to make your point in a humorous way and defuse potentially hazardous situations with comedy. By the way, you’re welcome.

Happy Valentine’s Day! / The Hubster is Working and I’m Doing This Stupid Blog Post

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Ahhh, Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate love. I’ve adored Valentine’s Day ever since first grade when I got my first taste of decorating tissue boxes and stuffing them with homemade cards full of compliments for my fellow classmates.That was a long, long time ago.

 

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The hubster realized early in our marriage that Valentine’s Day was not to be forgotten. (Once was enough for him to experience his wife’s transformation into cranky dragon lady.)

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The hubster (and my darling son) sent me beautiful roses this year, even though they don’t always like me, they always love me enough to send flowers on Valentine’s Day. (Presses hanky to eyes and sniffs.)                                                                    200-10

 

 

 

 

 

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The hubster and I also have an understanding regarding candy on Valentine’s Day.  It is not an appropriate gift I will eat every piece of candy in my house like it’s my job. While I could get away with this in my younger years … I might just as well paste it directly to my thighs now.

 

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The hubster is working a shift in the Emergency Room today so I can’t be mad. I’ll just send him my love and kisses … lots of kisses.

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Hope you’re getting a lot of attention and love today!

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(Oh, by the way hubster …. here’s a hint for next year’s Valentine’s day/birthday/anniversary/Christmas gift. What do you think? I just love sparkly things, but you know that.)

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I’m Sitting Winter Storm Jonas Out / Sorry Southern Friends

My shovel is always at the ready here in New England during the winter months, but it looks like I get to sit this one out! YAY! Winter Storm Jonas is only going to clobber the Mid-Atlantic States. The news say it may be the biggest storm in 90 years for Washington,     D. C. Yikes. Sorry guys.IMG_3061

I’m not about to make light of your situation. Snow is far worse for people outside of the New England states than it is for us. Here the snowplows and trucks are out sanding and salting before we even wake up. We own four-wheel drive vehicles, and since we grew up teething on ice, we think nothing of  practicing our winter driving skills in parking lots just for fun. Therefore, most of us can usually steer out of a slide or a skid on an icy road without panicking. (Sorry about all those donuts I did in our yard, Dad. I realize this may be the first time you’re hearing I did those with your Maverick, but I felt it was time to come clean. Please don’t hate me. Your next set of winter snow tires is on me.)

I’ll give you an analogy regarding winter. It’s sort of like making lemonade from lemons. Winter often gives us ice and snow in the Northeast, so we buy ice skates, toboggans, skis, snowshoes, snowboards, snowmobiles, and we make the best of our situation.

As much as I hate the problems that come with snow, I’m not paralyzed by the white stuff, I’m merely inconvenienced. When we lose power, I have a gas stove and oven so I can cook meals. I always fill up the bathtub so I’ll have water with which to bathe and cook or incase I have to flush the toilets by pouring a bucket of water into it. I have a warm winter coat, gloves and a closet full of fuzzy blankets.

So … be smart and be safe, my southern friends. Stay inside. Check on your elderly neighbors, and never, (I REPEAT NEVER) start a generator inside your house or garage, especially if it is attached to your house. (Can you say carbon monoxide poisoning?)

I Hate Packing Peanuts / The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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I hate plastic packing peanuts. I only received one box full of the loathsome things in early December, but it was more than plenty.

The debacle started innocently enough (as all debacles do) … a simple click of a computer mouse. At that moment, I could barely contain my elation. I had ordered a present that I knew the hubster would love.

Within a few days, the UPS guy dropped a fat brown package on my doorstep. Armed with scissors and a grin, I swooped it up and set out to open it on the kitchen floor. My dogs sniffed at it suspiciously, which should have been my first clue … but sometimes their Momma is a bit dense, and doesn’t pick up on things as fast as they do.

I lifted the first flap and saw the box filled to the brim with white packing peanuts. My face contorted in horror, and I felt sure I was on the verge of a seizure. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings, but at that moment anybody could have guessed that I had (and would continue to harbor) deep animosity for the packing peanut perpetrator.

I stared into the abyss of white with my dogs. The only way to get what I wanted out of that box was to swim my way down to the bottom to retrieve it. I dove in and sifted through the pestiferous peanuts until I found the prize.

I carried the gift upstairs to its hiding place and returned to what looked like a packing peanut war zone. My dogs had pulled the cardboard box apart and were romping around in the peanuts like it was a new snowfall. Itty-bitty beads of plastic clung to their coats while they cavorted.

I squeezed my eyes shut. “Deep breath in … deep breath out. Deep breath in … deep breath out. Remain calm,” I said, while experiencing a true Calgon-take-me-away moment.

When I was sufficiently serene, I fished some plastic peanuts from the dogs’ mouths, shooed them outside, and resolved to clean up the mess.

“Let the games begin,” I declared, knowing full well the packing peanuts had malicious little minds of their own, and any attempt to remove them would be hellish. “I will prevail.”

An hour later, I had the majority of the kitchen cleaned up, but miniscule particles of the peanuts were stuck on the outside of the vacuum, on the dogs, on the broom, on my hands, on my clothes and in my hair. It wasn’t much of a victory.

Without going into any further diatribe, may I simply state I abhor, despise, detest and loathe packing peanuts. Honestly, I’d rather someone use marshmallows to pack the items they were shipping to me … at least I’d have use for the marshmallows. Flutternutter, anyone?

Holiday Newsletter Extraordinaire / Stop Laughing. It Could Happen.

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The partridge (missing half it’s backend) was the only unlucky one in our family this year.

 I have never written a holiday news letter before, but this is an excellent year to start. I hardly know where to begin, except to say 2015 has proven itself to be the best year ever! I MEAN…EVER! So here goes!

Greetings Family and Friends,

What a year! At the beginning of 2015, I had lasik surgery, and it turned out flipping fantastic. Not only has my vision been corrected to 20/15, as a bonus side effect, I now have x-ray vision. How incredible is that?! I’m so blessed and fortunate. I can now read books without having to open them!
I have gained nearly ten pounds this year, but that’s largely because one week after we completed our kitchen renovation, Wolfgang Puck showed up on our doorstep, offering to become our personal chef. How could we turn him down? (Believe me, I was as surprised as you are!)
You’d think that would have been the end of our good luck streak for the year, but you would be wrong. Two days after releasing my first middle grade fantasy book, Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom, Johnny Depp, Robert Downy, Jr., and Peter Dinklage began wooing me for the book’s film rights. They had all read the book and fallen completely and hopelessly in love with it. How could I choose between them?
I took a drive to clear my head, and, as luck would have it, Ron Howard bumped into me with his car on his way to his home in Vermont. There was no damage done, but being the sweet man he is, he wanted to buy me lunch, and we discussed my dilemma with the actors. I gave him a copy of my book and within four hours of receiving it, he called and offered to buy the film rights. (No one says no to Ron Howard. I mean, really … how could I refuse him?)
Ron also insisted on introducing me to his good friend, Oprah Winfrey, who immediately ditched Gail King to become my bestie. (I know, I’m speechless too!) I’ve always, always wanted to be Oprah’s best friend.
To make a long story short, the hubster and I are now filthy rich.
Together, he and I decided the best and most responsible thing for us to do, considering our advanced age, was to move to England and buy that cute little castle we’ve had our eyes on since … like forever! We have twenty-eight servants and staff, but I have yet to see any of them as the castle has two-hundred and sixty-five rooms.
Those of you who know me well, know how much I value humility and to go on any longer about our good fortune would not be in good taste.
So that being said, the hubster and I wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year! The hubster hopes you’ll be blessed with the same good fortune as us, or at the very least, the same wild imagination that his wife has. (Yeah, good luck with that, people. None of you would last five minutes in my noggin.There’s barely room for me here, but … it’s a really fun and happy place.)

P. S. I can neither confirm, nor deny, there may have been some spicy eggnog involved whilst writing of this letter. (I feel comfortable using the word whilst now … you know … because of owning the castle in England and all.)

 

Giveaway on Goodreads for Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom

Book giveaway for middle grade fantasy on goodreads.com “Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom” is on! Today, you’ll find it on page 3 of the most requested giveaways, or page 64 of the recently listed giveaways! Available worldwide! Enter to win your hardcover edition today! Only10 hours left. It ends December 27th!
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Writer, Need a Muse? / Get a Dog / Shiba Inu Helps Edit

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My Shiba Inu loves! Winnie is our fourteen-year-old female and Rupert is her seven year old son.

It has been brought to my attention that although I have thanked many people for helping me get ready to release “Rafe Ryder and the Well of Wisdom” into the world, I have not given sufficient credit to the two “furry” muses who live with me, my Shiba Inu loves, Winnie and Rupert. And honestly…I couldn’t have done it without them. They give me unconditional affection and provide me with the focus I need to write.

 

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Not to mention the fact, my dogs seem to enjoy the writing process as much as me. Rupert, in particular, loved perusing my manuscript and offering his opinion.

 

 

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Although, he can sniff out a troublesome storyline with no problem whatsoever, just try to cut his toenails…he’ll treat you to his freaky Shiba scream, which is always guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two in our neighborhood. (Thank heavens for a vet who doesn’t mind cutting nails and thinks the Shiba scream is hilarious!)

 

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And he has actually been known to “sit” on parts of the story until I come around to his point of view. He’s stubborn like that.

 

 

 

Momma?

Momma?

 

 

I could never do without these adorable fluffbottoms! They remind me there is more to life than writing…there is love, belly rubs, kisses, walks, and more inspirations than than I can ever explain in a simple blog post.

 

 

 

Hello!

Hello!

 

 

Gahhh….look at these faces! How can I not be inspired to write something terribly imaginative with these two around?!

 

 

 

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So here’s to you, my darlings! Thanks for just being mine.

Deepest gratitude and love from your Momma.

 

Homeowners Injured, Accosted by a Spiteful House / No More Renovations Planned

Although I was excited about the renovation and my new sink, the house was not.

Although I was excited about the renovation and my new sink, the house was not.

Hello there. I know…I know. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a blog post, but I’m back at last. Our home has been undergoing a major kitchen renovation (since February!) and I completely underestimated the havoc it would cause in my life, not to mention the unholy mess! (Dang you, HGTV, for all those one-hour television shows demonstrating short, painless renovations!)

Over the last eight months, living in our home has not been at all conducive to thinking…let alone writing, and besides that, my muse flew straight out the window the moment she heard the buzzing of saws and pounding of hammers. (I can’t blame the poor thing, In hindsight, I should’ve vacated with her!)

Now that things have settled down, I’m anxious to tell you a story. Truth, in this case, is stranger than fiction (and far more entertaining), so let me began the saga of my spiteful house.

Creepy basement stones

Creepy basement stones

 

The hubster and I own a home, which is well over one-hundred-years-old. It’s charming and brimming with character. I LOVE this house to pieces, although I do find the basement with its creepy stone foundation a tad bit disconcerting at times.

 

 

 

Exhibit A

Exhibit A.  The house has a pretty mean slant on things.

 

I have long been suspicious my house is a living, breathing entity who does not easily embrace change, and I’m now more convinced of it than ever. Over the years, our house has adamantly refused to cooperate with the myriad of repairs and renovations we’ve had to make to her. She has never willingly accepted anything new, particularly the plumbing, wiring and windows, and this time was no exception. Ask the carpenters and subcontractors who have been unlucky enough to deal with her chicanery. (Exhibit A).

 

Bye byes, back stairway, bye byes!

Bye byes, back stairway, bye byes!

 

 

The kitchen renovation was the largest we’ve ever undertaken and I think we pushed our house over the edge when she lost her back stairway to the new pantry area of our kitchen. Oozing petulance, she pulled every dirty trick in the book to slow the process.

 

 

 

New pantry sans stairway

New pantry sans stairway.

 

I tried to sweet-talk her and convince her that everything would be okay, but she was having none of it. Reaching her boiling point, she took her revenge on me, and the hubster as well.

 

The new pantry was clearly unacceptable to the house.

The new pantry was clearly unacceptable to the house.

 

 

 

 

The last week in August on a stifling summer night, she had the audacity to push me down a flight of stairs, causing me great bodily harm. No. I’m not being dramatic and taking creative license here. No… seriously, I’m not. I REALLY had 3 broken ribs, a lacerated liver, and a compression fracture of my spine. My hand to heaven! (Now, the doctor said the fall down the stairs was due to a blackout caused by dehydration and hypotension, but I’m not buying it! Not for one single second!)

Two weeks later, my husband fell down two steps onto the cement floor in the garage rupturing a lumbar disc in his back, and compressing a nerve in his leg. (Coincidence? I think not.) The hubster had back surgery and has recovered quite nicely. We’re both fine and perambulating about town now, although six weeks on my back has turned me into a butterball.

Still need back splash, but taking shape.

Main kitchen. Still need back splash, but taking shape.

 

I believe the house is done retaliating for the renovation, at least I hope so, because we’ve still got flooring to go down and I’m not in the mood for any more of her insolence! I have cautioned her to carefully consider any further retribution, because I know where we keep the matches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Heartfelt Mother’s Day Blog Post/To My Darlings

Mother’s Day has rolled around again. It’s a day where most children take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate their mothers, but for me, it’s a day when I pause to think of how I earned the proud title of Momma and my three delightful darlings (or as I like to call them, the best kids EVER!)!!!!

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My babies when they were young!

My children are vastly different from one another and each required a whole different set of parenting skills.

My oldest child passionately loved new things and new experiences. My middle child was much more tentative and often had to be coaxed into new experiences. The last child, (and possibly the one most responsible for every prematurely gray hair on my head), frequently disappeared like Houdini. I was never certain if she liked new experiences or was avoiding them altogether. (If you think I’m kidding, be assured, I am not. She was famous for her vanishing acts! It took the whole family and a few neighbors, to keep track of that girl!)

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My babies all grown up!

Although being a mother is an extraordinary amount of work and I was often dirty-dog-tired, I’d gladly go back to the days when I was their whole world and they loved me as fiercely as I loved them.

Every mother knows those days. The days when they run to you to be held, their little hands encircling your neck, while their short legs wrap around your waist in a strangle hold any wrestler would be proud to possess. Then that precious moment when they purposely place their perfect little heads on your shoulder while sighing into your ear, “I love you, Mommy.”

I ache for the days I was allowed to hold them, rock them, sing them lullabies, and read them stories (often the same one over and over again).

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They picked these from our yard on Mother’s Day, each child trooping in with a fistful to present to me..

I miss boo-boo kisses and handpicked bouquets of violets from the lawn. I even miss the dirty handprints and coloring on the walls, but what I miss most of all is the way they looked at me. If you’re a mom, you’re familiar with “the look.” The one that says, “You are my everything. I love no one and nothing more than I love you.”

However, children must grow and my number one job became encouraging them to keep their heads in the clouds and reach for the stars all the while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground. That is not as easy as it sounds either.

I adore them and I am so proud of them. They amaze me daily, or at the very least, weekly.

Each year they give me wonderful Mother’s Day cards and gifts, but I have three Mother’s Day gifts that are sacred to me, one from each of them that I keep in a special drawer in my bedroom.

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My oldest daughter’s beautiful little handprint.

 

 

 

 

My son’s homemade necklace.   IMG_3536

 

 

 

 

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My youngest daughter’s heart-in-a-box.

 

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Today, I’m sending good wishes to all the mothers out there, to the young and to the very old. It is the hardest, yet the best, most incredible job you will ever love doing.

And here’s to our children, our endless loves, and to their lives…full of endless possibilities.

(P.S. To my own Mom: I love you more than you will ever know! xoxo)

Vermont Ice Castles/#IceCastles #StrattonMountain #Vermont #BirthdayMiracles

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Once upon a time, born in the deepest part of winter’s heart and clasped to her frosty bosom there was a tiny Ice Princess. The princess loved Mother Winter with her whole being, but as the princess aged, a strange and terrible thing happened. Mother Winter’s gifts—the frozen land, ice, snow, and cold, which had once held endless possibilities for fun, became tedious and full of drudgery.

 

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Deeply stinging from the princess’s resentment, Mother Winter made it her mission in 2015 to remind her daughter of all the precious moments they had once spent together, but no matter how stunning the storms or how many she sent, the Ice Princess remained angry and sullen.

 

 

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It would take a miracle to thaw her daughter’s frozen heart and restore their relationship, but miracles do happen, especially on the birthdays of Ice Princesses, and most especially, for Ice Princesses lucky enough to be  living in the state of Vermont.

 

 

How do I know? Because I’m the Ice Princess in the above story.

What was the miracle? A visit to the  ICE CASTLE snuggled between two ski slopes in the Sun Bowl at Stratton Mountain in Vermont.

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The Ice Castle at Stratton is a magical melding of ice caves, frozen waterfalls, glacial formations, towering archways, winding passageways, ice towers, thrones, benches, wishing wells, slides, igloos, hidden alcoves, caverns and tunnels. Sculpted hearts, crystal balls, and colored spheres are everywhere just waiting to be discovered.

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The castle is crafted by “growing” icicles, harvesting them, piecing them together one icicle at a time. The framework is then sprayed with water. The results are unique and beyond spectacular.

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My family and I explored the Ice Castle by day and then again by night when the lights embedded deep within the ice bounce and dance to the music piped into the castle.

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If you want to see the Ice Castle Light Show, you can see it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFy1OLvDH3I

Thanks to a birthday miracle and a wonderful family, the Ice Princess is back in the loving embrace of Mother Winter, and it’s wonderful so long as I remember to wear snow pants and a down coat.

Jack Frost is Off my Friend List/#Snowpocalypse2015

IMG_2943In the last seven day stretch of time, Vermont has seen two nor’easters and one hard-hitting clipper system. We’re drowning in the white stuff, but snow isn’t really my issue. The problem is it’s ten below frigid and mind-numbingly cold. I was outside for a little over two hours this evening, trying to unbury our two driveways for the third time, and even though I was dressed more than appropriately for the weather, by the time I hobbled back inside, I was frozen down to my very bones.

After a steaming hot shower, I found my way up to my writing desk, but quickly vacated it to huddle on the floor next to the gas heater with the dogs. My fingers and toes are rapidly regaining circulation, while vehemently protesting my earlier stupidity by aching like a son-of-a-gun.

IMG_1046Now I could go all sci-fi on you and suggest that the government is somehow manipulating our weather, but I’m afraid there is a far simpler answer. My friend, Jack Frost, the crusty little vagabond with multiple personalities has blown back into town with a vengeance this last week.

Jack’s a very popular fellow when he first arrives here in autumn. He makes the air deliciously nippy and covers every face he can find with frosty kisses. In addition, he’s the best company one can possibly keep at a fall bonfire.

In early winter, Jack is still quite tolerable and develops an artistic flair. Stroking the world with his silver crystal paintbrushes, shimmering masterpieces glisten on each glass surface he touches. This year he even left a portrait of himself on one of my windows. Check out his hair. Isn’t it fabulous?IMG_1130

Alas, in mid-to-late winter, Jack loses his mind and goes berserk. He shrouds the world in thick cases of ice. Pipes crack and burst. Cars won’t start. Roofs collapse. Vehicles skid all over the roads, which are slipperier than greased pigs. Tree limbs and telephone lines snap. To make matters worse, Jack Frost no longer just nips at your nose. No, he’s got a knife and he’s happy to cut your nose off your face if you dare poke it outside the door without protection. In short, Jack sometimes makes life miserable here in New England.

Tonight, however, was the last straw. Tonight Jack went too far when he turned murderous. Sitting on top of my slate roof, he launched an avalanche of snow at my head. I heard the slide coming, dropped the shovel and threw myself willy nilly into the nearest snowbank, out of the harm’s way. The only thing injured was my pride, but the shovel was not nearly as fortunate. It was buried alive. I frantically dug it out with gloved hands,while keeping an eye out for more snow slides from the roof. Unable to kill me, Jack made sure I suffered frostbite for rescuing my poor (and now thoroughly dented) shovel.

Not cool, Jack. Not cool. You’re off the friend list until next fall.

Would You Die For What You Believe?/#JeSuisCharlie

IMG_2023Tucked into a tiny basement in my small downtown is a coffee shop dripping with exquisite java and plenty of local color. I visit it whenever I want some really great coffee, which is frequently, because I have no talent for brewing the tasty beverage.

This weekend I was at the shop scarfing down a buttery scone and sipping my hometown blend of joe when two young men sauntered in and asked the barista to whip them up some cappuccinos. While waiting for their coffee, I overheard them discussing whether or not they would be willing to die for their beliefs,

As I eavesdropped on the pair, I realized their conversation had been prompted by the terrorist attack that killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo, the weekly newspaper in Paris that had caricatured the Prophet Muhammed.

Still animatedly debating the question after they received their coffee, they climbed the steps and exited the shop.

I surreptitiously eyed the other costumers as I sat at my little table. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the boys’ exchange at all, but I couldn’t get their conversation out of my mind. The question thrummed through my head, over and over. “Would I die for my beliefs?”

The more I thought of it, the more indignant I became. Why should anyone have to die for thinking differently than another person about any subject? Isn’t the world wiser now? Haven’t we learned anything? Why haven’t we been able to eradicate hatred, bigotry and intolerance?

If I can live side by side with people of different faiths, politics, genders, colors, and beliefs with no problem, why can’t everyone else?

In my humble opinion, all anyone need do to peacefully co-exist with others in any society is to cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.

Wouldn’t it be nice if future generations never had to discuss the question, “Would I die for what I believe?” over a cup of coffee.

A Christmas Story / No Act of Kindness is Ever Wasted

images-2Thanks to my usually superb time management skills, I rarely find myself rushing around in a holiday frenzy, but this year, time got away from me. I’m not sure why, but time has been in a full gallop since Thanksgiving and I’ve only been at a brisk trot.

Why did I wait until five days before Christmas to do my holiday shopping? Now I was going to have to fight my way through the multitudes of consumers at the mall. Bah humbug!

Feeling more frazzled than festive and still chasing time; I arrived at the mall and began my harried trek through the jam-packed shopping arena with my daughters.

Suddenly, the bustling throng in front of us miraculously parted. Hmmm. I could feel my special spidey sense (nurse’s intuition) kick into gear, but my eldest daughter spotted the trouble before I did. “Look, Mom. Someone fell.”

Fifty feet ahead of us, a round, old gentleman was on the floor, rocking back and forth on his hands and knees in front of a metal walker.

Immediately, a muscular guy stopped and gently helped the old man to his feet. The old man swayed and looked as if his legs might betray him again.

“There’s a chair over here,” called a woman from the back of the crowd.

“Drag it over here and put it underneath him,” said the man.

Assessing the situation silently, I inched forward as he lowered the man into the chair. Underneath his scruffy white whiskers, the man’s color was good; he was neither pale, nor ruddy. He took slow, even breaths, but I did notice his heavy blue coat was zipped to his neck. He didn’t grimace, cry out, or scowl as if he were in pain. A middle-aged woman with tense facial muscles and pursed lips hovered over him.

“There you go, buddy,” said the rescuer, giving the sweet old fellow a fist bump. “You good?”

The old man gave a mortified nod and dropped his gaze to his lap as the crowd of good Samaritans thinned.

I went to the man and knelt beside him. “I’m a nurse. It’s really hot in here. Do you mind if I unzip your coat and check your pulse?”

The man nodded and rewarded me with the biggest toothless grin I have ever seen.

I was relieved to find his pulse as strong and steady as the brown eyes gazing down at me.

“What happened?” I asked, unzipping his coat.

“My right knee gave out,” he mumbled.

“I’ve got a trick knee, too,” I commiserated, dropping my hand to his knee and touching it lightly. “Does this hurt?”

The man shook his head side-to-side and beamed at me again.

“I think you’re going to be just fine, but it would make me feel better if you used one of the mall wheelchairs while you finish your shopping?”

The man gave me another toothless grin. “Are you an angel?”

I snorted out a laugh as I got to my feet. “Not usually. Let’s send mall security to get you that wheelchair, and don’t get in anymore trouble, okay?”

He nodded agreeably and shot me another gummy grin, which hit me straight in my little Grinch heart, giving me the attitude adjustment I so desperately needed.

Thanks to my new friend and his contagious smile, I spent the afternoon grinning outrageously at everyone I met and cherishing the precious moments with my daughters. It was a very good day.

A Nurse’s Heartbreak/The Complexities Surrounding Emotional Abuse/Words Wound

UnknownNothing broke my heart more than watching #whyIstayed trend on twitter a few months ago. The story I’m about to tell you is true, although I have changed the names of those involved to protect their anonymity. To this day, it remains one of the saddest experiences of my nursing career. 

 After I graduated from my medical center’s nursing school and sat for my boards to become a registered nurse, a highly coveted job opened in the labor and delivery unit and by some miracle, (and possibly, the fact I had worked my way through nursing school as a tech in the same labor and delivery unit) I was hired for my dream job.

Today, however, I was not going to be enjoying said dream job. No one was in labor and the patient census was low on the obstetrics ward so I was going to be floated to the only other “clean” floor in the hospital. Yes, that’s right. I was going to the psych unit.  

“Hi there,” said the nurse in charge, tossing me a chart as I folded myself into the nearest chair at the empty report table. “I’m going to have you specialing a patient today.”

Specialing a patient is a psychiatric term which meant I would be accompanying a patient at all times throughout his or her day for the purposes of protection and observation. Oh, joy.

“Your patient is Beth Ann Monroe. She’s a sixty-year-old, married, white female, a retired dietician, and mother of four adult children. She’s been with us for the last two weeks.

“The chart says she’s here for her third suicide attempt in fifteen years.” I cocked my eyebrow in protest. “This is way out of my comfort zone.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as I skimmed the chart. “Beth Ann is going to be released today.”

“I don’t understand. Why are we specialing a patient who is well enough to be discharged?  She shouldn’t be going home if she’s a danger to herself.” I felt my shoulders begin to knot and creep up next to my ears.

“Relax. The patient’s husband is a prominent judge in town. Administration wants us to dot all our i’s and cross all our t’s with this case,” replied the charge nurse. “I am giving you a very simple assignment. We’re confident we’ve got the right therapy in place for Beth Ann now.”

I wanted to ask the woman why they hadn’t managed to put the appropriate care in place the last two times Beth Ann was here, but I thought it best to hold my tongue.

The charge nurse pulled a tape from an envelope and flicked it towards me. “Last month, Beth Ann gave her eighty-six-year-old mother these audiotapes for safekeeping. When she was admitted to the hospital, her mother brought them in to us. Listen to a few minutes of that tape. The judge’s charming public persona does not go home with him at night.”

I popped the tape into the recorder beside me. A loud male voice screaming a steady stream of profanity ripped through the air. It was very unnerving. Finally the swearing turned into language I could actually comprehend. “You’re so f*#king stupid! I don’t care what you think. I’ll go wherever the hell I want, Beth Ann, whenever I f*#king want! I told you I’m done talking to you. Now get the f*#k out of my study!”

“I’ve heard enough,” I said, snapping off the recorder. 

I realize from time to time, we all get angry enough to say hateful things and do mean things to the people we love, but judging by the mound of tapes sitting in front of the charge nurse, we weren’t talking about isolated hurtful behaviors from the judge. 

 “We now know that Beth Ann is in an emotionally abusive relationship. She’s married to a very angry man,” said the charge nurse.

I had to agreed with her there. The man certainly did sound angry. “I really don’t have any experience with stressed-out angry men,” I said, hoping my greenhorn status would get me out of this assignment.

“Stress and anger issues don’t cause abusive behavior and it is not an excuse for it either,” said the nurse tersely. “Abusive behavior is about power and control. Some men use emotional abuse as a way to handle their anger, frustration, guilt, lack of self-control, and possibly even low self-esteem. None of what has happened is Beth Ann’s fault and I’ve think we’ve finally gotten that across to her.”

“Where’s she going after she’s discharged?”

“Home.”

“Home? Is that a good idea?” I asked.

“Beth Ann wants to go home and this time we’ve got excellent aftercare lined up for her. She’ll have a different therapist who specializes in abusive relationships and no more marriage counseling.”

“No more marriage counseling? By the sounds of what I just heard, they need marriage counseling, and lots of it.”

They do, but not the traditional kind of marriage therapy. Traditional therapy assumes both people are equally responsible for the problems in a relationship. The only thing marriage counseling succeeded in doing in the past was to make Beth Ann feel worse about herself than she already did.”

“I really don’t feel qualified or comfortable to care for this patient. Don’t you think it would be better to have a more experienced nurse with her?”

“You’ll do fine. Beth Ann is in a really good place now and she’ll enjoy having you as her nurse. I should mention that when she was first admitted she was extremely anxious and had some problems with elocution, but in the two weeks she’s been with us, these problems have improved significantly.”

I sighed and nodded. Anymore arguing with the charge nurse and I’d risk insubordination. Specialing a patient wasn’t hard and I’d done it before. I’d stay with the patient during her daily activities and have therapeutic conversations when the opportunities presented themselves throughout the shift. 

Still, I couldn’t help but have misgivings about this particular case. What did I know about emotional and relational abuse? I had grown up in a stable, loving family, and I was only twenty-one years old. For Cripe’s sake! Beth Ann was sixty and had clearly been suffering emotional abuse for longer than I had been alive. I was out of element…out of my depth…out of my comfort zone, and honestly terrified I’d say or do something wrong to make her situation worse.

I stepped out of the report room fervently hoping the charge nurse hadn’t made the biggest mistake of her career to find a thirty-something-year-old woman waiting for us at the front desk. “Who is Beth Ann’s nurse today?” she asked.

“That would be me,” I said, smiling and stepping forward to shake the woman’s hand. Scowling, she read my name tag, then she shoved the photo album she carried underneath her arm into my open palm. “Please give this to my mother. I want to remind her who she is supposed to be.”

That being said, the woman spun on her heels, stalked over to the locked exit, and waited for a staff member to buzz her out.

I was glad the woman was leaving. Even as a novice psych nurse, I knew hostility wasn’t therapeutic.

“I’ll take that,” said the charge nurse, relieving me of the photo album and placing it on the desk next to the unit secretary. “I’ll check to see if it’s okay with the doctor for Beth Ann to have it. In the meantime, I’ll take you to meet your patient. She’s waiting for a group on intimate partner abuse to begin.”

I don’t know what I was expecting when I saw Beth Ann, but certainly someone frumpier and more depressed than the woman I saw. She was a petite, well-dressed, gray-haired, grandmotherly woman. She smiled as we approached and greeted me with a warm handshake after the charge nurse introduced us. Relief flooded through me and I finally relaxed. 

Beth Ann and I entered the group and sit in a circle of five other women. The group leader started by asking the women to share what living with emotional abuse had done to them.

“My guard is always up and I’m anxious all the time,” began Beth Ann. “I’m not allowed to have a different opinion. If I have a different opinion, I’m disloyal and not to be trusted.” The other women in the group nodded their heads as if they understood exactly what Beth Ann meant.

“I don’t want to see my friends or family anymore. I’d rather be alone. It’s the only time I feel safe,” said another young woman.

“Me too,” agreed the woman sitting next to me. “The only time I don’t piss anyone off is when I’m sleeping, but sleep is impossible. I don’t ever feel safe enough to sleep.”

“I’m depressed and on the verge of tears all the time,” confided a woman on the other side of Beth Ann. “I find myself wishing for my death on a daily basis.” Empathy dripping from her fingertips, Beth Ann reached for the woman’s hand and squeezed it.

There was a constant lump in my throat as I listened to what these women were saying.  They were experiencing unimaginable pain, shame, guilt, despair and anxiety. 

The group leader passed around a list of things that were considered emotional abuse. She told us emotional abuse was learned behavior and a choice. It follows a pattern which is repeated and sustained. If left unchecked, the abuse will get worse, not better. The object of abuse is to gain power over you. The abuser doesn’t care if the power is in the form of your adoration, your fear or even your loathing. If they can make you dance to the tune they’re playing, it feels good to them.

This was astounding information to hear. And had the group leader really just said emotional abuse was a learned behavior? I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around that kernel of wisdom. I supposed that it could be true, but it was hard for me to comprehend because my father was a kind, gracious, gentle man. He hadn’t attended any type of school where men learned to behave badly.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

1)   Verbal abuse

2)     Harassment

3)   Belittling

     4)    Swearing, vulgar language, insults

      5)     Yelling and screaming

      6)     Intentionally embarrassing you in public

      7)     Blaming their abusive/unhealthy behavior on you or others

      8)     Threatening to take your children from you

      9)     Jealously, excessive possessiveness, and interrogation

    10)    Withholding affection

    11)    Humiliating you and ridiculing you

    12)       Spiritual abuse/Putting down your culture and spiritual beliefs

    13)       Silence and withdrawal

    14)    Symbolic aggression (such a slamming doors, rolling eyes, slumping, and                      intimidating gestures)

    15)      Controlling everything, steamrolling over you

    16)    Gaslighting

    17)    Starting rumors about you or telling false stories about you

    18)      Controlling and allowing you no access to the finances

    19)    Isolating you from friends and family

    20)       Picking fights

At the bottom of the page was another list with the most prevalent types of physical abuse.

1)   Kicking

2)   Biting and spitting

3)   Pushing

4)   Choking

The behaviors listed on the paper were overt behaviors, but what the group leader wanted to talk about next were the more covert behaviors that these women had experienced.

One of the ladies shared that her husband never let her finish a thought or a sentence. He constantly interrupted everything she said and later became furious with her when she honestly couldn’t remember the point she had been trying to make to him when she began the conversation.

Another woman talked about how her husband told jokes and stories at her expense when they were out with friends and family. She’d begged him countless times not to share these things because they weren’t accurate and painted her in a bad light, but he wouldn’t stop.

If she made the mistake of calling her husband out on these jokes or stories in public, he’d look at her as if she were crazy and tell her she was being stupid or overly sensitive.  Everyone laughed, except her. He’d tell people she was overly sensitive and emotional.  “Jeez, Helen, the man can’t even tell a joke without you jumping down his throat,” they’d say.

“The shame of the whole matter is the few people I confided the abuse to…they didn’t really believe me,” continued Helen. “My husband was absolutely charming to them, and even when those same people caught glimpses of the abuse, they refused to take a stand. No matter how outrageous I considered his behavior, they’d ignored it. They didn’t want to be involved. They often told me what I was experiencing were petty squabbles that every couple had and I was over-reacting. They’d tell me if I ignored his behavior, he’d stop it.”

“What did those experiences teach you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You do know,” prodded the group leader. 

Helen shifted uncomfortably in her chair and sighed. “Eventually I didn’t want to go out anymore. I didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t trust anybody. I guess I wasn’t really sure if I even trusted myself. Maybe I was the overly sensitive mess my husband insisted that I was and…maybe I actually was the one victimizing my husband, as he claimed. It made me feel crazy.”

The group leader leaned forward so that she could look directly at Helen. “It made you feel crazy because it’s what we call crazy-making behavior. It’s designed to make you feel shame and bewilderment. Repetitive inappropriate communications with someone you trust and his enlisting people to help him reinforce that to you caused severe emotional pain and scarring. Because no one called your husband on his inappropriate behavior and communications, it served to perpetuate the cycle by reinforcing to your husband how much in control he is during these situations.”

My heart ached for Helen. The courage it took to broach the subject with another a person, only to have those people trivialize and minimize what you were experiencing. It would have wrecked me, too.

The group leader decided further explanation was in order. “Denial is an integral part of emotional abuse. Friends and family often minimize and deny what is happening.”

“But in all fairness,” said Beth Ann, “how can they understand what is happening to you, when you can’t even understand why you’re being treated like the enemy? I’ve always had my husband’s best interest at heart. He knows I’m not his enemy.”

The group leader shook her head slowly side to side. “He doesn’t know that. Generally, an abusive man considers almost everyone his enemy, even the ones closest to him. You see, it’s about power and control. Think about it, if someone is your enemy, your goal is to diminish your enemy’s strength. You must render the enemy powerless, helpless, and weak. You must control your enemy so that he cannot control you.”

“That’s just sad,” sniffed one of the women.

As I continued to listen to how the threads of these women’s lives had unspooled and tangled into unrecognizable knots, I wanted to sob. The common theme I kept hearing from the women in the group, was none of them were truly believed. Many had tried to get help from clergy, friends, family, psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists. In some shocking instances, the women were even blamed for provoking the abuse they were suffering. The self-worth of these women had been completely annihilated. They felt useless and worthless and, to my horror, some of them even believed they deserved what they got.

My head throbbed. The energy it took to sit there with a relaxed, interested look on my face was enormous. I wanted to cry, but more than anything else—I wanted this soul-shattering group therapy session to end. However, our fearless group leader still wasn’t done. She went on to inquire why the women stayed in their relationships.

“I stay because he hasn’t hit me. If he hit me, I’d leave him and be able to get custody of my children,” declared one woman.

“I have no idea what would happen if I left and I don’t want to find out,” said the woman next to me.”

“I’d lose my children,” said the woman sitting by Beth Ann.

“Because in between the bad times, we have some really good times,” said Helen.

“I know he can be better and change back to the person he was,” insisted someone else.

“Forty years,” whispered Beth Ann. “I’ve been with him for forty years.”

“What I think I hear you saying is that you’ve invested too much time in the relationship for you to leave. Is that right?” asked the group leader.

“Yes, that’s right. I want his horridness to end, not my relationship. I love my husband.” Beth Ann eyes glazed over with tears as she dropped her gaze to the balled up hands in her lap.

I pretended to scratch my eyebrow and stole a glance at my watch. Thirty more minutes until group ended? I’d never survive. Surrounded by all this aching and grief, I could actually taste the pain these women endured and it left my tongue dry and thick.

I’d rather all six of these women were screaming in the throes of labor because at least I’d know what to do for them and what to say to them. I could comfort them in all the little ways I knew and assure them their pain was temporary. I knew how to keep laboring women focused on the end goal, the light at the end of the tunnel, the prize for all the pain they endured. Here in this group, I felt I could do nothing of any significant value.

These ladies seated in the circle around me were veterans and heroines in the private war waged on them daily. They endured unimaginable metal anguish and they were broken shells of their former selves. Although I didn’t have the slightest idea how to act around these women, I knew it was important to be present in the moment with them. I could do that much. I could listen without judgment, believe them, and respect them.

Our group leader decided to end the group with a lesson into the possible roots of domestic abuse. She felt very strongly that the roots of domestic abuse, both emotional and physical, were established by the pervasive attitudes that existed towards women for centuries.

Historically women were treated as property. Women couldn’t own anything and women had no right to vote, because what we thought wasn’t important. A man could use physical force, if necessary, in relating to his wife.

She read a paragraph from a book published in 1881 by Harriet H. Robinson called Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement to illustrate her point. “By the English common law, her husband was her lord and master. He had the custody of her person, and of her minor children. He could ‘punish her with a stick no bigger than his thumb,’ and she could not complain against him.”

She said some men were simply modeling the behavior they had been taught by their own fathers and their fathers before them. For some men, the abusive behavior was a defense mechanism to reduce their own emotional stress in a relationship and maintain control. 

The group leader went on to say that children who see or hear their mothers being abused are victims of emotional abuse as well. Growing up in such an environment is terrifying and severely affects a child’s psychological and social development. Male children may learn to model aggressive behavior while female children learn that being treated badly is just a normal part of relationships.

I began to wonder if the group leader had an off switch I could push. I just couldn’t take in more words, but still she went on.

“Men can further devastate their families by not providing attention in a sensitive and responsive manner, by being detached and uninvolved, by choosing to interact only when necessary and by treating people like objects, not human beings. That’s all for this morning’s session. This afternoon, we’ll talk about fully becoming our authentic selves, acknowledging and expressing our anger, and pursuing our own interests and needs…even if it opens the possibility of displeasing others.”

Thank God! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! The group had ended! I felt guilty for being relieved, but it was excruciating to be around all that suffering. How did the group leader do this everyday? Did she come with a Teflon interior or had she just become desensitized over time? My interior was Velcro and I was sure it would take weeks to peel my heart free of the pain I’d experienced while sitting there in that group.

The charge nurse tapped me on the shoulder and I rose to face her. She was holding Beth Ann’s photo album. “Two patients were just admitted to Labor and Delivery. I’ve been told they’ll need you back if they have another admission.”

I tried not to look too cheerful about the possibility of returning to my floor, but inside I was giddy.

The charge nurse turned to Beth Ann. “I have something for you. It’s from your daughter, Beatrice. She thought you’d like it.”

“Thank you. I’ll take it back to my room, if that’s okay with my shadow here,” said Beth Ann.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I replied.

We quietly strolled back to Beth Ann’s room. She pulled the bedside table towards her with one hand and motioned for me to sit on the edge of the bed beside her.

I watched as Beth Ann turned page after page of her life and her memories. When she done, she drew in a deep breath and fixed a steady, unflinching gaze on me. “It’s funny.  I look at these pictures now and all I see are lies. Lies I told myself and lies I told my family. My life started off so perfectly. I don’t know how I ruined it all.”

Okay, this was exactly what I was afraid was going to happen. I didn’t know whether to ask Beth Ann to explain further or let her know right away she wasn’t the one who ruined anything. I needed to say something remotely therapeutic and say it now. So I said, “I’m not a full-time psych nurse, but I do know none of this was your fault. Your husband has to learn how to handle his stress and frustration in a constructive way. That is his responsibility, not yours.”

“So they keep saying here, but I can’t help thinking if I had been a better woman, a better wife, or if I had given my husband more love and attention—more understanding, he’d handle his frustration in a different way. My priest seems to think so too.” She turned here attention back to the photo album and traced the tips of her finger over the faces of a family portrait. “Bottom line, I failed him and I failed my children.”

“No. No you did not,” I said, shaking my head emphatically. “Your priest is wrong.”

Just then, the charge nurse appeared in the doorway. “Your unit has two more patients in labor. I need to send you back.”

I looked at Beth Ann. All I wanted to do was to pull her to me, give her a hug and will all my strength into her, but I barely knew her and it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.  Instead, I whispered, “I admire you. You stay strong.”

Sometimes someone else’s belief in you when you’re feeling weak and defeated is an incredibly powerful thing and it was all I could offer Beth Ann.

Another nurse arrived to take my place. Beth Ann smiled and waved to me as I left her room. I walked back to the locked exit with the charge nurse. I told her about the exchange between Beth Ann and myself as she unlocked the door for me to leave. “I know I’m not an experienced psych nurse, but I get the sense Beth Ann is not remotely ready for discharge,” I said emphatically.

“I’ll tell her team what she told you. Don’t worry, they won’t let her go if she’s not ready,” the charge nurse assured me.

I headed back to the labor and delivery unit to finish my shift. Thank God it was Friday and I had the weekend off and Monday, too. I felt as wrung out and crushed as the clothes my grandmother put through her old-fashioned wringer washing machine. 

I was just beginning to get back to my normal self when I reported to work on Tuesday. I changed into scrubs, washed my hands, collected a cup of coffee and headed to the backroom. It was still early so I’d have plenty of time to read the morning paper someone had graciously left on the counter.

I flipped through it, scanning the headlines to see what interested me. Then I saw it. Beth Ann Monroe’s smiling face staring up at me from the obituaries. My hand began to tremble and my coffee spilled over the edges of my cup and onto the paper. I watched as it seeped over Beth Ann’s neck and head. 

I covered my mouth to hold in my screams and headed for the nearest bathroom. I just made it before my body unleashed the most ugly fit of crying I’d ever experienced. I held onto the sink, rocking back and forth over it like a mad woman. “What did you do, Beth Ann? What did you do?” I said out loud between long choking sobs.

For the longest time I blamed myself for Beth Ann’s death, but as the years passed and I gained more life experience, I realized what happened to Beth Ann did not fall solely on my shoulders; rather it was a group effort by all of us, all her friends, family, doctors, nurses, therapists, mental health workers, clergy, and even society at large.

We fail women when we do not protect and value them. We fail women when we treat them as worthless and powerless. We fail women when we don’t listen to them, or believe them. We fail woman when we don’t support them. We fail women when we trivialize and minimize their experiences. And above all, we fail women when we don’t teach our sons to treasure and respect the women in their lives.

As a writer I know how powerful and merciless words can be. We can’t just hurl them about indiscriminately. Words have the power to wound deeply. Some people will heal from those wounds, but others will not. I think we could all agree, the world would be a better place if words were not wielded like weapons.

I could do nothing to help Beth Ann, but I can honor her memory in the only way I know how—with words.

The Lamentations of Beth Ann

 I’m so tired of living in constant strife,                                                                              And you blaming me for what’s wrong with your life.

You’re so wrapped up in your anger and resentment,                                                   That you choose to forgo what could be contentment.

You devalue, demean and deliberately hurt,                                                                  And refuse to believe that you treat me like dirt.

You value control above all things and all else,                                                             But you fail to realize what you’ve done to yourself.

No attempt means no failure, so you don’t even try.                                                     You checked out of life without a goodbye.

It’s still not too late to assess and repair,                                                                      And stop playing your game of soul solitaire.

I go through each day unseen and unheard,                                                          Unloved and unhappy. It’s more than absurd.

When will you see through all your blindness,                                                             What I wanted from you was a little kindness?

Still, you can’t hurt someone who no longer exists,                                                      Who died a slow death by your words, not your fists.

L. L. Reynolds

The Grave of Mehitable Brown/Coimetrophobia/A Halloween Story

I’ve always loved my neighbors, but living next door to them has done nothing to enhance my popularity in the fifth grade. In fact, I’ve lost many friends because of my neighbors. I guess I should explain. I live next door to a graveyard.

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Fear of cemeteries, or coimetrophobia, is quite common among my friends. I never developed this fear because I was raised with a no-nonsense view of life and death. Everything lives and everything dies. Death is unavoidable and it’s best to be practical about such things, and being eleven is not an excuse to be unrealistic. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anxious to join my neighbors on their property any time in the near future, but I’m not afraid of it, either. As far as I’m concerned, death is the next great adventure. Why fear the inevitable?

Not everyone feels the same way, especially my ex-best friend Emily and I’m partially responsible for that. I know what I did was wrong and I feel really bad about what happened. Well…mostly. Allow me to elucidate.

I spent months trying to persuade Emily to visit my house and she’d spent the equal amount of time dodging my requests because I live next to a cemetery. She finally agreed to come for an afternoon, the day before Halloween, but she absolutely refused to spend the night.

“Everyone knows spirits hang out around their graves. They’re probably in your house, too…maybe even in your room,” said Emily.

I giggled. “There are no spirits in my house and, for your information, they don’t hang out around their graves. Think about it. If you died, and had the ability to go anywhere in the world, are you seriously going to stay by your tombstone waiting for someone to visit you? No, you’re going to go someplace fabulous, like Buckingham Palace, or the Great Pyramids of Eygpt, or at the very least, Paris.”

“Take it or leave,” replied Emily.

“Fine.” I glowered. “Have it your way.”

The next day after school, Emily rode the bus home with me and we spent the most incredible afternoon playing games in my yard within sight of the cemetery.

“It’s really not as scary as I thought it would be here,” she said.

“I told you so,” I singsonged.

“I can’t believe you play in there, though.”

“I do not play in there. I wouldn’t disrespect the dead like that.”

“Then what do you in there?

The ancient hearse from the cemetery. Now displayed in the Cole Museum. Bangor, Maine.

The ancient hearse from the cemetery. Now displayed in the Cole Museum. Bangor, Maine.

I shrugged. I didn’t feel it wise to tell Emily about the old horse-drawn glass hearse in the carriage house on the grounds of the cemetery, where I frequently envisioned my own youthful demise and resplendent funeral procession. Sliding onto the coffin castors in the back of the hearse, I’d silently repose myself and imagine my body solemnly rolling through the village drawn by six magnificent black stallions as my distraught friends and neighbors openly wept and rent their garments in true biblical fashion.

“Did you hear me?” asked Emily.

“Of course, I heard you. All I do is walk around imagining how some of the people buried in the graveyard were in life and then I tell their stories. After all, everyone wants to be remembered, don’t you think?”

“You’re kind of creepy,” said Emily with a scowl.

“Come on, I’ll show you.” I started walking towards the cemetery.

Emily wrinkled her forehead. I could see her pulse throbbing in her neck, but she followed me anyway. Dried leaves crunched under our feet as we made our way along one of the dirt roads perusing the crumbling monuments.

To my surprise, Emily seemed fascinated. “Look. Tobias Strong. Died 1866. Age 4months. Aw, he was only a baby.”

“So what do you think happened to him, Em? Give him a story. Everyone needs a story.”

Emily wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Well…maybe he got pneumonia. His parents didn’t have access to a doctor, being so far out in the country like this, and he died. His parents were inconsolable.”

I smiled encouragingly and nodded. It was a good thing she couldn’t hear what I was thinking because my mind was staging a mini-riot. It was the lamest story I’d ever heard. I would have gone with a tragic kidnapping plot myself, but, in all fairness, Emily was new to the graveyard story game, I had to give her chance.

“How about this one?” I pointed to a monument of a tiny stone cherub with chipped wings.

“Patience Gunn. Loving wife. Born 1877. Died 1899.” said Emily, clasping her hands over her chest. “I believe Patience died while giving birth to her first child. Her husband never married again because she was his one true love and he was never the same after.”

I rolled my eyes behind my friend’s back. She obviously knew nothing about the art of storytelling. Patience Gunn had clearly been murdered. She had not died in childbirth.

007Next, I led Emily to a very special headstone. Even she, couldn’t mess up this man’s story.

I read the epitaph out loud. “Henry Clay. Died August 22, 1884. Age 120 years. I have reached the goal, where death leaves in its eternal rest my weary soul.”

Emily looked at me quizzically. “Is that true? He was actually one hundred and twenty?”

“That’s what the tombstone says and that’s why he needs a spectacular story.”

“He certainly does,” she agreed. “Henry Clay was a hardworking farmer married to an amazing woman who bore him ten sons. He passionately loved his family. His one regret in life was that he never had a daughter. He peacefully passed away in his sleep surrounded by his ten sons, fifty-six grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.”

Frowning, I pressed a hand to my lips to hide it. It took every effort I could muster to keep from pulling the hair from my head. In my mind, Henry Clay was the slave of a wealthy Massachusetts family who righteously denounced slavery and freed Henry. He moved to Maine where he became a conductor on the underground railroad, traveling to plantations in the south pretending to be a slave in order to guide others to sweet freedom. In later years he became a fur trapper. Unfortunately, he contracted rabies from a fisher cat and died quite unexpectedly.

For the next fifteen minutes I watched Emily pause at various headstones and listened to her prattle on about love, romance and loss, until my head ached, my stomach churned and I slowly took leave of my senses.

“My turn.” I said, pointing to an ancient obelisk framed against the setting sun. It was time for Emily to experience the magic of a real storyteller. “This is the tale of Mehitable Brown told in her own words.”

Emily clapped her hands excitedly.

“My life was an ordeal of the most grievous kind, because I made a disastrous romantic match. I don’t remember a living moment that wasn’t filled with agony, struggle or suffering. Perhaps I was happy in my childhood, but I have no recollection of those times. In fact, I remember nothing before I met that monstrous man. He was a tyrant, a ruthless, loathsome coward. His spirit was so full of darkness, the demons lamented the day he left hell to be born on Earth. In life, there was no surviving his poisonous presence and I died long before they put my body in the ground at your feet.”

Emily gave a horrified cough, placed a fingernail in her mouth and began to chew. I could see her uneasiness lurking and the gooseflesh raising on her arms, but I didn’t care. I’d heard enough of her cutesy graveyard yarns to last a lifetime.

“I laughed ominously and flung my arms out towards Emily. “I deserve another chance at life and I shall have it. Come to me, my pretty child,” I whispered wickedly. My…pretty…little…Emily!”

Emily’s eyes widened in terror, but that only encouraged me. I took a menacing step towards the poor girl and lunged for her.

Emily bolted from the cemetery shrieking her lungs out.

What can I say? Halloween seems to bring out the devil in me. In hindsight, I should feel worse about losing my best friend, but it never would have worked out between us, anyway. Our creative differences were far too great for us to overcome.

Hilarious Southwest Airline Personnel / Comedy-in-the-Skies

I hate flying.  I really do…or at least I did.  I changed my mind after my first flight on Southwest Airlines in 2013.  airplane

Southwest’s trademark hilarity started on my way down the jetway when a phone rang.  “It’s for you,” said the jetway attendant, extending the phone to the woman trying to board ahead of me.

The woman laughed and pushed his hand away.  The jetway attendant returned the phone to his ear and said, “She doesn’t want to talk to you right now and I can’t say that I blame her.  Apparently, you’re the reason she’s leaving on a jet plane.  Can I take a message?”

I bit my lip and boarded the plane, trembling with laughter.

“We have no assigned seating on any Southwest flights and you are free to sit in a seat of your own choosing,” said a male flight attendant over the microphone.  “However, I would like to offer first-time passengers a word of advice.  Do not sit next to anyone who is naked.  You will find that naked people on a plane cannot be trusted.”

“Widely known fact,” chuckled the man behind me.

I giggled like an idiot, found a seat and waited for the obligatory, boring safety announcements to begin.

“Direct your attention to the flight attendants standing in front of you as they will be demonstrating how to fasten your seatbelt,” boomed the male voice through the microphone again.  “Everyone needs to wear a seatbelt because this airplane is going to be going very…very…very fast.  If you don’t know how to operate a seatbelt, we will help you locate the person who is supposed to be supervising you while you are out and about in public.”

“There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but I assure you, there are only six ways to leave this aircraft so please pay attention,” said the voice.  “The flight attendant in the aisle is indicating the exits with her hands.”

“If you’re traveling with small children or someone acting like a small child today…I’m sorry,” continued the disembodied voice.  “In the unlikely event we lose cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the compartments above you.  Place it over your nose and mouth first.  Next, please decide which child has the most potential or is the least likely to place you in a nursing home when you are older and the secure their oxygen mask before helping the other little ingrates that may be travelling with you.”

“Also, in the unlikely event we land near water today and you have to get wet.  You may keep the lovely yellow party vest and the seat cushion from this airplane to make up for any inconvenience this type of landing may have caused you, compliments of Southwest Airlines.”

“Of course, this is a non-smoking flight.  Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying any smoke detector in an airplane lavatory.  In addition to the large fine imposed by the federal government for this offense, the flight attendants will ask you to step outside and hold onto one of the plane’s wings for the duration of the flight.  So remember, if your grip isn’t what it used to be, smoking is not advised.”

“Lastly, if there is something you’d like to make this trip more enjoyable, please mention it…to someone who cares when we’ve reached our final destination.”

Was our comedian done yet?  Hardly!  He easily took the edge of our nerves like a pro when the plane hit some pretty significant turbulents.  “Would the children in the back of the plane please sit down and stop rocking the plane?  This is not a Ferris wheel ride,” he said sternly.

When we landed at O’Hare, the plane spent an inordinate amount of time taxiing to the gate.  The seasoned flight attendant could tell we were getting annoyed and antsy. “Welcome to Chicago,” he said.  “Here at Southwest we fly you halfway and drive you the rest of the way.  That’s how we keep our prices so low.  Let’s face it, if you could afford a higher airfare, you’d be flying first class on a different airline.  While we are taxiing, please keep your seat-belts securely fastened until you hear the ding indicating the pilot has turned off the Fasten Seat-belt sign.”

A few minutes later I heard the ding and before I could unclick my seat-belt the flight attendant bellowed, “Okay, get out!”

I got out, but I’ll be more than happy to get on again Southwest Airlines.  Well done!

 

Chillaxing In My Own Little Corner/Mindful Meditation

In my younger days, I could solve all of my problems with a cup of tea, a hot bath and a handful of chocolate. As I aged and the situations that life threw my way grew more complicated, managing stress became far more challenging.750

When a friend suggested meditation, I was extremely reluctant to attempt it. I’m not a crunchy granola type of girl and I’d never been interested in hippie voodoo.  For crying out loud, who has time to sit around contemplating the fuzz in their navel anyway?

Still in my role as a nurse, I’d seen mindful meditation work for countless people.  Why not give it a try?  How hard could it be to sit down, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing for twenty minutes?  PIece of cake.  I got this one in the bag.

Holy Mackerel!  Was I ever wrong!  Apparently, I’d underestimated the mess in my head.  If my mind was a jungle, you wouldn’t be able to cut through it with just a simple machete. No siree!  In order to make any significant progress you’d need a few dozen chainsaws, a couple of tractors, a GPS, ten men, and a boy.

My first few attempt at meditation was an epic failure.  The following is an example of the monkey business bandied about in my head that day:

Breathe in and out…breathe in and out…speaking of in and out, that reminds me, I have to put the bills in the mail today which means I’m going have to go out this afternoon. Stop it, just stop it, you’re supposed to be breathing, not thinking!  Okay, breathe in and out…and in and out…and uh oh…I didn’t feed the dogs before I sat down…they’re probably starving… I’m starving too…I’d really love some pizza…but I should probably have something healthy… like a salad.  Ugh!  You’re thinking again.  Focus…focus…I can’t focus when my feet are itching…come to think of it so is my nose.  Settle down girl!  You can do this…breathe…just breathe…caught up in the touch, the slow and steady rush…I can feel you breathe…just breath.  Aaaaugghh!  Now I’ve got that Faith Hill song stuck in my head.  Nutballs!  This meditation stuff is impossible.

Fortunately, before I completely gave up on meditation, I came across an offering from The Great Courses called Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation.  It was taught by Professor Mark Muesse.  I decided to give it a try and it was well worth every penny. (The man has a Ph.D. from Harvard, people, and his teaching is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  If you’re going to try meditation, I recommend getting this course.  Professor Muesse is familiar with many types of meditation and I especially enjoyed the gratitude (metta) meditation which he introduced.)

I’m not going to lie, sometimes my mind still runs amuck when I’m trying to meditate, but I’ve learned that doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  Now, I acknowledge my thoughts without judgment, put them in a bubble and blow the little suckers away.

My most successful meditation (so far) has involved focusing on my breathing and repeating Isaiah 40:31.  This meditation soothes and comforts me like nothing else. If you aren’t familiar with the verse, it is as follows:

“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”

It was from a fabulous sermon that I heard my Dad preach when I was teenager, and well before Chariots of Fire made this verse so famous, but I digress, because that’s just what my mind does.

At any rate, meditation seems to have reduced my stress levels, improved my focus, concentration and creativity.  It’s even helped tame my chronic insomnia.

I’ll be honest, I doubt I’m ever going to experience nirvana, but the peace and quiet I’ve discovered through meditation is truly refreshing.  I’m convinced the world would be a better place if we all got rid of our chill pills and tried meditation.

Winter No Longer Enchanting

It’s hard not be under winter’s spell when the first snow falls and suddenly the world outside your window is silent and deep, wearing only shades of pearl and diamond dust. I’m thrilled to see creation wrapped in all its frosty ethereal elegance until mid-January and then the bloom is off the rose. two old man winter_4c54f733cb735

Now I’m sick and tired of bitter winds, freezing temperatures, cold and flu season, frozen pipes, ice, potholes and most particularly shoveling snow which has been somewhat hazardous to my health.

So far, it’s just been a few muscle aches and strains and some minor cuts to my hands, but if winter continues and my sense of melodrama heightens, I fear I may have to collapse a lung to show my pure disdain for the job.

Make no mistake, shoveling has not been the only thing that has caused me to become disillusioned with winter.  The vice-grip hold of the “polar vortex” has been equally responsible.  Most of the time I can’t feel my limbs and I’m pretty sure I froze my left {redacted} off.  Hypothermia has also severely limited my ability to think and move which explains why I’ve put on enough winter weight to shame a black bear and my lax attitude toward blogging.

In addition,  I can now sand the finish off my furniture with my bare feet and hands, not to mention, the static in my hair could generate enough electricity to power my whole town for at least a month.

The final straw occurred this morning when I woke to my nose spraying blood like a high-pressure fire hose.  I’ve never had a nosebleed in my life and the mess it left was truly impressive.

It’s official.  I am totally over winter!

Spring will come once mother-nature gets tired of her dalliance with old man winter, but just when I think it’s over between them, they start it up again!  Come on mother-nature, just let him go already! You’ll see him again next year, I promise.  I’m sure by that time, I’ll have forgotten how annoyed I am with him and I’ll be looking forward to his return as well. (Okay, I’m not actually sure at this point, but it could happen.)

 

Dealing With A Loved One’s Cancer Diagnosis / Twelve Things I Have Learned.

balled up fistCancer has a way of breaking and beating people down with circumstances far beyond their control.  I try to approach life in a positive manner and look for humor in odd places and dark corners, but sometimes, like everyone else, I get sucked down a black hole of despair and have to claw my way back out.

I’m sure my little preamble is leading some of you to ask, “What the heck is this little chicklet spouting off about now?”  Here’s the deal.  After a long twelve year remission, the hubster’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is back.  (Note to self: For future reference, do not allow the hubster to schedule routine yearly cancer checkups right before major holidays.)

Agonizing memories of the hubster’s chemos, radiation and stem cell transplant suddenly came flooding back to me and played over and over in my mind, like that miserable little jingle from a television commercial that you just can’t get out of your head.

Cancer.  What an awful word!  The disease has changed him.  It has changed me.  It has changed us and not always for the better.  It fundamentally transforms you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, whether you want it to or not.  As any of you that have dealt with a loved one’s cancer know, the big “C” doesn’t just happen to them, it happens to the whole family unit as well.

I need to remind myself of what I learned twelve years ago and perhaps it will help someone else.

TWELVE THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM DEALING WITH THE HUBSTER’S CANCER

1) I can and will be brave and strong.  If I can’t do it for me, I’ll do it for the hubster and the kids.

2) I can only deal with one day at a time (realistically, sometimes I can only deal with one hour at a time) and that’s okay.  I don’t have to be Wonder Woman.

3) I will ask for help if I need it.

4) I will reach out to trusted friends and family.  I don’t have to walk this path alone.

5) I will practice gratitude for each blessing that comes my way on a daily basis.  (a kind word, a compassionate nurse, a loving gesture, a caring friend, an encouraging phone call, etc.)

6) I can and will find the humor in the situation.  Laughter is a strong medicine.  It helps me and it helps the hubster.

7) I will have faith.  I will trust in the highest power of all.  A way will be made where there seems to be no way.

8) I will remember that adversity truly does define character.  I will not allow myself to become an angry, hostile, bitter, frustrated woman.

9) A good cry in a hot shower and a cuddle with my dogs does wonders and helps mitigate the stresses of a long hard day.

10) I can write.  Writing helps me sort through my thoughts and feelings.  It allows me to discard what I can and work through what I must.

11) I’ll call a therapist.  It helps to talk.

12) Above all, I will live inside hope!  I will not simply have hope or go forward with hope.  I will LIVE each day INSIDE of hope.

Life delivered a substantial blow.  Now it stands over me and taunts me, daring me to get back up for another.

Well Life, here is my reply.

Congrats. You had me temporarily flat on my back, but I got to my knees and I’m standing again.  Every time you knock me down, I will keep getting back up and facing you until I draw my last breath.  You see, Life, it’s like my grandfather used to say, “Don’t hold a match under a firecracker unless you’re prepared to deal with the explosion.”  And trust me, you don’t want to mess with this little firecracker.  Capiche?

 

Why Bats Make Me Lose What’s Left Of My Mind / Going Guano Loco

“How can you say you love all winged creatures and not like bats? They play a crucial role in our environment controlling insects and pollinating plants,” said my darling, but very self-righteous neighbor as she passed me her empty coffee cup to put in the sink. “Your fear of bats would disappear with a little education and understanding.”bathead.JPG

“Look, Estelle, I grew up in the country and if they’d mind their own batty business and stay outside, I wouldn’t have a problem with them.” I retorted.

“I’m buying you some books.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. I know all about bats and I’m not afraid of the ones flying around outside, just the ones that come inside to attack me.”

“Bats don’t come inside to attack you,” she said, shaking her head at me on her way out the door, clearly sorry for the poor deluded human being standing in front of her. “If books don’t work, we can always try reconditioning you through psychotherapy. I have a cousin that specializes in helping people with phobias. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.”

“Terrific,” I replied, closing the door behind Estelle. Knees sagging, I placed my back against the door for support.

I know that it’s completely irrational to believe that bats have it in for me, but I do. Bats send me to a very dark place where I am reduced to a sniveling incoherent puddle of insanity which normal people like Estelle fail to understand.

My first episode with a bat was not the one that scarred me. In fact, most country kids have a similar story. When I was ten, a little brown bat found its way into the upstairs bedrooms of the old parsonage in which my family lived. My sisters, brothers and I panicked and a shriek fest ensued while my father chased the bat back outside. He explained that the poor little creature had accidently found its way inside our house and assured us that the bat was more scared of us than we were of it.

My second encounter was when a bat accosted me from inside a toilet bowl at the tender age of twenty and it was the beginning of my undoing. I cannot begin to explain the terror that grips you when a tiny set of claws suddenly attaches to the back end of your bottom while you are locked into a tiny bathroom sitting on the throne. To say that I arose and freaked out would be an understatement.

Fast forward to the bat frantically swooping around the small enclosed area with me screaming and swatting at it. Somehow we both ended up tangled in a plastic curtain at the bottom of the shower stall with the little bat’s teeth mere inches from my face while the tiny creature emitted an incessant high-pitched screech. I’m not going to lie—I passed out cold.

I wish I could say that my clashes with bats ended there, but sadly, it was not to be the case.

The third time I was sitting in the hubster’s office coding some insurance claims when I heard an odd chattering and clicking sound coming from the closed attic door next to me.  I watched in horror as a bat squeezed out of a dime-sized crack in the door jamb and flew straight at me. I screamed like a banshee and vacated the area tout de suite with my arms flailing wildly around me. Even though the hubster’s office manager assured me that the bat had been caught and relocated, I refused to code the entire next week.

The episode that drove me over the edge and guano loco (a polite way of saying bat poop crazy) happened late one fall night. I was lounging in bed and reading a darn good book when I thought I caught a shadow flitting by out of the corner of my eye. I glanced up from my book and scanned the room. Seeing nothing, I resumed reading.

The next thing I know, there is a squawking noise overhead and a small brown bat materialized out of thin air. Flying directly at me, it became ensnared in my long hair. I screamed until my throat was raw and clawed at my hair until the bat was free, but not before it nipped the top of my ear. At some point I got a window open and drove the creature out into the night.

Now, intellectually, I know the bat didn’t get tangled in my hair intentionally, and that it was a mistake on the bat’s part, but I get really annoyed with those who say that bats don’t fly into a person’s hair. I’m here to tell you, it happens people!  It’s not a myth.

Most women take their hair down before they go to bed, but to this day I put mine in a ponytail before I go to sleep. I never go to the bathroom without thoroughly examining the inside of a toilet bowl either. I have been completely traumatized by bats and frankly I’m beginning to believe in vampires…but I hear that’s what happens when you go guano loco.

Lucy, You Got Some Splaining to Do!

“Lucy, you got some splaining to do!”

Yikes!  There is a hole in our gate!

Yikes! There is a hole in our gate!

The hubster likes to lapse into his Ricky Ricardo persona when he requires an explanation from me.  He claims to have a special affinity with Ricky since he often feels like he’s living in a perpetual I Love Lucy episode.

Granted I do have a knack for getting myself in trouble, but I’m not daffy, I don’t want to get into show business and I’m not a tall, leggy, redhead.

“What is it now, Ricky?” I said, playing along with his game.

“There is a hole in the gate outside.”

“There is not,” I argued.  “What are you talking about?”

The hubster led me outside and stood me in front of the garden gate.  Ruh Roh!  He was right.  Indeed, there was a small hole in the fence.

“What did you do?” I gasped.

“Me?  I didn’t do that,” he said, placing his hands on his hips and giving me an exasperated look.  “Obviously you did it while you were mowing the lawn a couple weeks ago.”

“I certainly can’t remember doing it,” I said.

That was the honest truth of the matter due to the concussion from which I suffered.  The mower had kicked up a rock, the size of my fist, and it had landed on my head and that’s the last thing I remember until I went to the Emergency room five hours later to have a CT scan.  I know I finished mowing the lawn, but I have no recollection of doing it.

“Loooooosee…”

“Now Ricky, don’t get your knickers in a knock.  I’ll look for the piece that’s been banged out and we can gorilla glue it back in place.  It will be as good as new,” I said, puckering up my face and preparing to give him a full on Lucille Ball bawl. “I was only trying to help.  How can you be mad at me?”

The hole looks worse up close and personal.

“I’m not mad at you.  I was just showing you what you did to the fence.”

My face brightening as I dialed back the drama a notch.  “So you’re not going to play Babalu on my backside? I’m so relieved.”

“Get on inside the house.  You’re a crazy woman.”

“I’m a crazy woman?”

He gave me a sly look.  “See, finally something we both agree upon.”

I sighed.  “Okay, this round goes to you Ricky, but tread lightly because when I recover all of my senses, it’s not going to be so easy for you to best me the next time.”

Slug Patrol

I despise creepy, crawly, slimy things that lie about in their own goo which is why I really hate slugs.  Well… that and the fact those greasy little lumps of flesh can consume forty times their weight in food overnight.  This year they’re well on their way to turning our backyard paradise into a wasteland.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

We’ve had so much rain that those slippery suckers have become amazingly audacious; they aren’t even trying to hide anymore.  (See exhibit A.) They ate all my basil, put holes in my hostas, chewed my begonias and have started chowing down on my parsley.

Every morning and evening I go on slug patrol.   I pick the ooey-gooey creatures off the plants, take them across the road and pitch them as far down the hill as I can get them.  As you can imagine, this is time consuming and very annoying.

I’ve tried every non-violent way humanly possible to rid the yard of those pests, but my slugs are extremely talented and have even managed to find their way around copper flashing.  I can’t bring myself to squish them, or use salt or pesticides on them because that just seems cruel.

However, out of sheer desperation, I may soon consider offering them beer if they’re determined to keep up their sluggish tomfoolery.  I’ve given this quite a bit of thought, if I were a slug, that’s the way I’d want to go…drunk as a pirate on my way to Davey Jone’s locker.  Hey, it’s preferable to being eaten by a snake.

Steroids Make Me Cray-Cray!

sickI’m usually in good health, but three weeks ago the hubster shared a formidable little microbe that wreaked havoc with my lungs and necessitated a prescription for a tapering dose of steroids.

I know, I know.  Short term steroid therapy speeds recovery from nasty bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, but ai-yi-yi, how I hate them!

When I take that tiny white pill I make the energizer battery bunny look like a slug. I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep and I can’t stop cleaning things.

Despite my fever and ferocious cough, I mowed the lawn and did five straight hours of non-stop yard work. Then I went inside and washed all the floors in my house. The next day I washed every window in my house and was still up at one-thirty in the morning polishing the outside of the glass panes by streetlight. The next day I washed and detailed my car and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera for the next seven days.

The steroid story never ends happily for me. At the end of the treatment I crash spectacularly, weepy and exhausted.

This morning the hubster found me slouched on the couch, surrounded by crumpled up tissues and crying into the crook of my arm between coughing fits.

I lifted my head, staring at him with my bloodshot eyes. He was spooked instantly.

“Uh-oh,” he whispered, slowly backing out of the room.

“Uh-oh is right buster!” I wailed. “I’m at DEFCON 2.  Run for your life.”

And he did.

Turning the Tables on an Unsuspecting Vacuum Salesman

 

A very clean rug.

A very clean rug.

Many years ago, the husbster and I were subjected to a three hour long high-pressure sales pitch from two vacuum cleaner representatives and ended up purchasing a fifteen hundred dollar vacuum.  To make a long story short, they wore us down and we made the purchase from sheer exhaustion.

As a result of that debacle,  I  was prepared for the unlucky chap that wandered onto my doorstep this morning hoping to sell me a thirty-five hundred dollar vacuum cleaner.

Yep, I let him in; right after I pulled an old broken vacuum destined for the dump from the closet and positioned it in the front hallway.  The salesman entered with an Oh-boy-this-house-is-going-to-be-filthy glint of excitement in his eyes when he heard my dogs barking.

“Settle down Cujo,” I called to the dog barking madly.

“I love dogs,” said the salesman.  “Is his name really Cujo?”

“It’s his nickname, but it’s well deserved so whatever you do, steer clear of the kitchen,” I warned, fibbing my brains out.

The salesman wasn’t about to let anything as trivial as an unfriendly dog deflate his spirits.  He was a nonstop blabbermouth and barraged me questions.  Was I the homeowner?  Did I handle the finances?  Do I do the cleaning?  How many rugs did I have in the house? Was that the only vacuum that I owned?

He was disappointed to find that there were only two small area rugs in the downstairs portion of the house.  Undaunted, he proceeded with his sales pitch.  He wanted me to clean a portion of one of my rugs with my old vacuum and then he was going to re-vacuum the area with his super-duper cleaning machine.

“Sorry, Cujo chewed on the electrical cord.  It’s not working,” I replied.

“This wire can be fixed with some electrical tape which I just so happen to have with me,” he said, after examining the cord.  He pulled out some black tape and jury-rigged my vacuum.

“Now you can go ahead and vacuum,” he said, pushing the machine in my direction.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible.  My back is acting up again and it’s strictly against my doctor’s orders,” I lied again, hoping that God would not strike me dead from dishonesty.

“Then I’ll vacuum the area we talked about earlier with your vacuum and go over it with mine.”

“Thank you, but unless you’re prepared to do the whole rug, I’d really rather you didn’t.”

He happily obliged and showed me the dirt he’d collected in a special filter after he vacuumed my carpet for the second time.

“That rug is filthy,” I said, looking horrified.  “I’m getting rid of it.”

“Oh don’t do that.  This vacuum cleaner is also a rug shampooer.  You don’t need to throw your rug away.   All you need is the home cleaning system that this vacuum has to offer for the bargain price of only thirty-five hundred dollars.”

“So let me get this straight,” I said, biting my lower lip and trying not to laugh.  “I can buy a thirty-five hundred dollar vacuum cleaner instead of throwing this rug away and replacing it with another one hundred dollar area rug.  I’m not a math genius, but it doesn’t sound logical to me.”

“Well, I can call my manager to see if we can get that price lowered for you.  We could also give you a trade in on your beat-old old vacuum cleaner.  Perhaps I can even get the price down another thousand dollars for you if my manager is feeling particularly benevolent today.”

“Thank you, but that’s not going to be necessary because you won’t be making a sale here today.  I’m managing a tight budget and the last thing I need is another payment on a high interest finance plan, which I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to set up for me, so that I can buy something that I don’t really need.  It’s not going to happen.  This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“But YOU DO need a good vacuum, and in fact, you’re desperate for one,” he argued.  “If I could pull this much stuff out of your carpet, just think of what is floating around in the air.  How can you put a price tag on your family’s health?”

”You needn’t concern yourself.  It’s time to pack up your things and go, but thank you for fixing my old vacuum and cleaning my rug,” I said, trying not to look as smug as I sounded.

He glowered at me as it finally dawned on him that he’d been had.  He slammed his vacuum cleaner back in the box which sent “Cujo” back into another frenzied barking jag. “Fine, but it’s your loss lady!” he growled, exiting the house.

“Not today,” I said, closing the front door behind him.

Okay, so maybe I lost forty minutes out of my morning, but I got the old vacuum fixed and someone other than myself thoroughly vacuumed my rug, not once, but twice and it was all free.

Has this ever happened to anyone else?  Did you yield or hold firm against the high-pressure sales pitches?

Strolling of the Heifers | Extraordinary!

Eowen the heifer.

Eowen the heifer.

When your zip code is E-I-E-I-O, you eventually become accustomed to sharing space with local farms and farm animals.  Fortunately, I spent most of my formative years in an itty-bitty Maine town so I can truly appreciate Vermont and the down-to-earth people who live here.

For the twelfth year in a row I have attended the annual Strolling of the Heifers weekend in Brattleboro, Vermont.  It’s an utterly charming event and if you’ve never attended it, don’t worry, there’s always next year.  Bring the children and the grandchildren; they’ll thank you for it!006


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The Strolling of the Heifers began as a parade and day-long tribute to agriculture, but it has evolved into five days of awesome events and it has put eclectic little Brattleboro on the map. Tens of thousands of people now attend this popular yearly festival.

The parade is off any known cuddly cuteness scale.  It’s impossible to be a curmudgeon there because, dang it, it’s fun to watch a hundred heifers slowly moo-ving down Main Street, followed by other barnyard critters, tractors, clowns, floats, bands and dairy fairies.

After the parade, I moseyed down to the eleven-acre slow living expo.  It was a veritable showcase of local talent and entertainment, not to mention entrepreneurs, exhibits, games, and vendors.

Alpacas

Alpacas

In addition, it was very educational.  Today I learned the difference between a mule (offspring of male donkey and female horse) and a hinny (offspring of a male horse and female donkey).  I also learned that alpacas and llamas are types of South American camels.  Really? Who knew?

Brattleboro is home to a trapeze/aerial circus school and it was a treat to watch them all perform. This girl was only fourteen, but already a marvelous little entertainer!  She held her poses long enough so we could all snap pictures between our ooos and ahhhs!031

There was a line a mile long for the Strolling of the Cheeses tent, but I patiently waited for my free cheese samples which were delicious!  Nothing like Vermont cheese!

The tractor exhibit was very popular with the kiddies.  Who doesn’t want to sit in the seat of a tractor at any age?  It’s cool!

010Far and away, my favorite moment of the day came when I found a young girl tucked between two cattle trailers.  Her name was Riley and she confessed that she and her cow Cricket were resting in the shade as they were plum tuckered out.   Can anyone say adorable? 

I miss Maine and the ocean, but I gotta say…I love Vermont and the Strolling of the Heifers!

 

 

 

 

Fatal Drowning | RIP Fitbit

The pool skimmer and I have had our issues in the past, but this year has been particularly troublesome.  To be fair, I’m the one at fault.  I fully realize that I must replace the skimmer’s cover after I’ve emptied the basket, but for the life of me I can’t seem to remember to do it.

Never turn your back on a pool skimmer.  They are very mischievous.

Never turn your back on a pool skimmer. They are very mischievous.

Two days in a row, while watering the lawn, I have stepped into the pool skimmer, lost my balance and pitched into the water. Now, if I had been wearing proper pool attire and had removed all electronic devices instead of being fully dressed, this might have been a welcome or at least refreshing occurrence, however, it instead had fatal consequences for my loyal fitbit friend.

For those of you who are not familiar with a fitbit, it is an ingenious little device that clips onto your trouser pocket and 
013measures steps taken, distance walked,and calories burned.  It has become an indispensable part of my life because it by prods me, goads me and sometimes shames me into getting off my duff!

My poor fitbit did not succumb to drowning the first day.  No, indeed!  It instinctively held it’s breath while I grabbed the diving board and swung myself out of the pool.  I was overjoyed to find the clever little machine working perfectly and we happily went about our business for the remainder of the evening.

I really can’t tell you why I didn’t learn my lesson the previous afternoon, but obviously I didn’t and the next day when I took the plunge, I landed much further out in the water.  The fitbit was submerged for a lengthy period of time while I swam to the side of the pool.  I immediately tried to resuscitate it, but to no avail.  I even placed it in a bag of rice for several days on the off chance that it might spring back to life because it missed me so much.

Please excuse me while I share a special moment with the dearly departed.

My dearly departed fitbit.  As you can see, he has a lot of water in his little lungs.  Proof of his drowning catastrophe!

My dearly departed fitbit. As you can see, he has a lot of water in his little lungs. Proof of his drowning catastrophe!

My delightful fitbit companion, I am truly and deeply sorry that you had to be the one to suffer because of my problems with the blasted pool skimmer.  I take full and complete responsibility, little buddy.  If it’s of any comfort to you at all, my leather loafers have shrunk half a size and pinch my feet, thus perpetually reminding me of my stupidity. You were such an inspiration to me and I shall greatly miss you!  RIP!

 

Staying Abreast of the Red Robin-Steve Irwin Style

I’m definitely no Steve Irwin.  I do not smooch snakes, collect bugs or enjoy skirmishes with wildlife, but  crikey I get excited about anything with wings!  Look!  There’s another egg in Momma Robin’s nest! 008

I risked life and limb, yet again, to go up to the roof and secure this picture for my blog.  Don’t worry it wasn’t too dangerous.  Fortunately, I have a zoom button on my camera and Momma Robin is developing a tolerance for my aerial routines.

Her choice of locations for her home had been on my list for a severe pruning when the tree service visited our house last week and after we discovered her hard work, the tree was spared, but it had been pruned just enough to afford me an excellent view into her nest from the roof.  She seems to enjoy the umbrella that I loaned her to make up for the branches we took away.011

She and I are becoming quite cozy with one another because bribes are not beneath me. I’ve been leaving juicy brown earthworms all over the yard for her.  By next week, dare I say, we might even be besties.  I’ll keep you all abreast of the situation. (Pun intended this time)

Why I’ll Never Like Cinco de Mayo / Traumatic Anniversary Reactions

For the last five years Cinco de Mayo has been a very challenging day for me, but from what I understand, “anniversary reactions” are common after going through a trauma.  Although I don’t generally flail, toss, turn, or disturb the peace after I’ve retire for the evening, I somehow managed to put my foot through a two thousand thread Egyptian cotton sheet last night. An incredible feat, (no pun intended) if ever there was one. 001

An anniversary reaction? What’s that?

Sometimes the memory of a traumatic experience can be so intense that when the date of the experience rolls around the next year, and every year thereafter, the person may suffer restlessness, sleeplessness, anxiety, or any number of other distressing symptoms.

The date of the infamous Cinco de Mayo that began my descent into unspeakable agony was May 5th, 2008. On that day, the hubster and I were informed that our only son … our beautiful twenty-four year old, healthy, strong, wonderful boy had a fifty-fifty chance of living. He’d had a bicuspid aortic valve since birth, but it had always been watched carefully by his cardiologist. “What happened?”

The doctor explained that a strep infection had lodged in his heart and eaten away both his aortic and mitral valves. In an attempt to save his life, the surgeon needed to perform a very risky operation in the morning.

No amount of nursing education or hospital experience prepared me to hear that my son might die. I found myself drowning in shock and pain. How had my son’s much anticipated short weekend visit home from NYC turned into such a fiasco? How could the world still be going on around me when my life had just been shattered? How could my son be in the process of dying? I couldn’t begin to comprehend it. As a mother, you can never be ready for this kind of news and the word “devastated” cannot begin to describe how I felt. Watching our son receive and react to the news was even more unbearable!

A much happier time for mother and son.

A much happier time for mother and son.

The nurses gave our son something to relax him and when he was settled and calm, the hubster and I briefly left the hospital to try to process the fifty-fifty chance that our son had been given to live. We weren’t hungry, but we wandered into the nearest eatery, a Margaritas Mexican restaurant. It didn’t even occur to us it was Cinco de Mayo until we entered the building. The manager greeted us at the door with smiles, flowers and balloons before escorting us into the festive atmosphere. Watching all the happy people partying around me while I worried about the possibility of burying my son, proved too much for me. I went to the ladies room and sobbed in a bathroom stall. I came back out and sobbed at the table, too. I just couldn’t get myself together.

After a sleepless night, I walked into the hospital feeling gutted. As the nurses wheeled my son into surgery, the gravity of the situation struck me, and I completely shut down. Had I just said goodbye to my son for the last time? I pulled a hoodie up over my head in the waiting room, put my fingers in my ears, and curled up in a chair with my head buried in a pillow for the next seven hours straight.

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The post I made to commemorate the day in my son’s scrapbook.

Fortunately for me, we have amazing friends who came to the hospital to sit with us during our son’s surgery, and even though I had totally shut down, these darling friends were compassionate and understanding. They offered me earplugs and sat with me in silence solidarity.

The next day brought us still more bad news. We learned the electrical conduction system of our son’s heart had been destroyed, and that in addition to his two new artificial values, he would need a permanent pacemaker. The news left us reeling and even more grief-stricken for our child … but at least he was alive, and that was enough!

I don’t remember many details of my son’s hospitalization, and I am very grateful for that, but I do remember being panic-stricken and praying. I begged and pleaded with God for my son’s life to spared. To me, life wouldn’t be worth living if I lost any one of my three precious children. They were and always have been the best things I have ever done.

This story, however, has a very happy ending because five years later our son is alive, well and prospering, and as soon as the traumatic anniversary of May fifth and sixth comes and goes—I’ll be fine too.

Luckily for me, Mother’s Day is coming up. Hopefully, my three amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind children (who I have now just buttered up with the right adjectives) will chip in and buy Momma a new set of sheets or a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card if I promise to sleep on the floor during next year’s anniversary dates.

Boston Marathon Bombing

Who committed the monstrous bombings in Boston yesterday and why?  It’s possible that terrorists, fueled by hatred for the United States, were responsible for the bombs that exploded.  It’s equally possible that they were planted by a mentally unstable 001member of our own society.

Who are these cowards that feel compelled to vent their rage, exact their revenge and perpetrate these atrocities?  I could focus on those questions, but to what end?  Right now, I’m just concentrating on the fact that my two daughters and son-in-law who live and work in Boston are safe!

The news media bombarded the airwaves with terrifying footage of the bombing yesterday, yet despite the chaos and confusion surrounding the horrific event, I saw Boston at its best, full of kind, compassionate brave heroes and heroines!

Boston, America is with you and we love you!  Our nation faces these kinds of tragedies together and together we are strong. Listen as we speak words of encouragement and comfort!  You are in our hearts, thoughts and prayers!