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Monday, June 1, 2015

I'M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN!

We all know that feeling in our chest. The clutching, painful stab if we dance too fast, too hard, pushing our body into overdrive. It's as if we've been strapped into the front seat of the highest roller coaster, our eyeballs popping out of their sockets as our heart beats like Thumper's big rabbit foot.

But maybe that's just me because I'm terrified of heights. Still, even with my feet planted firmly on the ground, nearly every day I feel as if I'm trying to stuff 34 hours of life into each 24 hour day.

And I'm not alone. We know we can't do it all, yet we keep trying. As though if we just dance a little faster through life, we can get every-stinking-desire-goal-dream crammed in along with our requirements of life (the day job that pays our bills, time spent with our family and friends, cramming some fun into the cracks of our lives). 

If you are old enough, you might remember the movie "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can", from 1982. It was a biographical film about a high-strung woman relying heavily on sedatives to reduce the tension and anxiety in her life. While I've refrained from reaching for sedatives, I've also realized that over-stuffing my life with a never-ending to-do list is just as unhealthy as sedatives.

I look at other writers, or better yet, published authors, who are now having to wear a hundred hats besides their writer one. I am almost positive they have given up sleeping in order to juggle everything else that goes hand-in-hand with getting their book(s) published. They've got to feel like they're doing a fast-paced jig at all times!

I love books. Authors are like rock stars to me, especially after I've realized just how time-consuming and crazy-hard it is to write a book and get it published. My world wouldn't be the same without books, and I'm guessing, if you "follow" me on any social media, you are an avid reader too.

The weekly book blog I started last year, Fridayfictionfriend, was for the sole purpose of hearing from a guest each week about a favorite book they've read (I simply can't read 24/7 although I'd like to!) But committing to every Friday was a crazy idea on my part. What was I thinking? Okay, I know, I know, I wasn't thinking. 

I didn't think about how busy everyone is, especially as the weekend draws close. Yet I didn't want to give up on letting readers know of new authors or new books that they might not hear of otherwise. Every week I hear of another good book or author that I hadn't read yet. My to-be-read list could stretch across the U.S.!

We all need to choose a balance in our lives, so our brain isn't always doing the jitter-bug. For me, I need more time to work on my own writing so that someday I may join the list of authors being featured!

So to cut myself some slack, I'm retiring Fridayfictionfriend, and starting a new book blog: SharingYourBook.blogspot.com.  It will feature more books by authors who are trying to get the word out about their own novels, and, I'm hoping, book lovers will still post about a favorite book they've read. I will also post random synopsis posts of wonderful books I've read, or books that others have told me about.

I may not be able to dance any faster, but I'm not giving up on spreading the word about books. And I hope you join in to share a favorite read of yours. Yes, I know, you're busy, but it will only take a minute... no longer than a spin around the dance floor. :)




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The true Cost of Living

We all are familiar with the term "cost of living".  I even worked at a job years ago where we frequently received COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) bumps to our paycheck.

But I never really thought about the phrase until recently, never thought about what it really says:  "living" costs money.  I never thought about how much living we want to do needs to be worth the money we spend doing it.  It occurred to me last month when I had the opportunity to get away for two fun weekends in a row... each costing money (of course.)

That opportunity might not seem like a big deal to many, but I am thrifty, conservative. My husband might call me cheap.  Regardless of the term, spending money like that for two weekends in a row is a luxury I typically wouldn't allow myself.  Then I thought—why not? I know many people with the work-hard-play-hard motto, and I've got to say, they look like they're having the time of their lives.

I've worked hard for my money, as we all do, and in the past have at times had to live hanging by a financial shoestring.  Now that I have spending money, I'm having a hard time actually spending it, on me anyway.  No problem spending it on others (something I used to wonder about when I'd see my parents and grandparents do the very same thing.)

I had to really think about what I was working for.  Wasn't I supposed to be enjoying this prime of my life?  Aren't we all?  Yes, there are so many out there, barely getting by.  The last thing they have is money to spend on having fun.  And I think about many fun activities I enjoy, like playing cards, that don't cost a dime.  Spending money doesn't equal happiness.  I get that. 

But I also know that going on these weekend getaways was well worth the cost for me.  And that the "cost" of not living life to the fullest, isn't worth the money saved. I'm not big into New Year Resolutions, but for 2015 my goal will be to do more “living.”  How about you?  What do you hope for your future?
  




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Looking for your input on a book cover choice (with a chance to win a $50 B & N gift card)

Recently, author Suzanne Redfearns wonderful debut novel, HUSH LITTLE BABY was featured on my Fridayfictionfriend book blog.  Suzanne is now looking for your help in choosing her next books name and cover.  And, if you haven't read her first novel, you should!

Do you enjoy novels by Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, JoJo Moyes or Anita Shreve? Then you are the perfect reader to help up-and-coming author Suzanne Redfearn choose the title and cover for her next women’s fiction novel. For participating, you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Click here to participate.
               


Voting ends December 21, 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A NUMBER OF OPTIONS

So tomorrow is a big number for me on the birthday scale, at least it seemed big back when I was a teenager.  Back then, to me a woman in their mid-fifties had permed, gray hair, wore stretch pants, and dangled with one foot in the grave.

Do I ever feel that way?  Well, there are days, but luckily, very few so far. But enough about me, let's take a look at some people who've "thought outside their age-box."

How about endurance swimmer Diana Nyad?  At sixty-four, she accomplished what very few could do, no matter their age.  Her fifty-three hour swim from Cuba to Florida would've knocked out just about any twenty-year-old. What a woman!

Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, who published her first book at age sixty-four (see, I'm young by her standards!) 

And Nelson Mandela was seventy-five when elected president of South Africa.

Now let's have a gander at the Rolling Stones.  If you'd have asked them when they started performing if they thought they'd still be hopping around on stage fifty years later, they'd have laughed in your face and said they wouldn't even be alive fifty years later.  Yet, here they are, rockin away!

Then there's the other end of the spectrum - children absorb so much at such a young age, learning more now because we no longer assume they're too young (to read, do math, learn a second language...) Our expectations have changed over the years now that we understand what sponges their young brains are.

Look at Louis Braille, who was a teenager when he invented the raised dots system, known as Braille, and became a teacher of Braille at nineteen.

Jaylen Bledsoe, fifteen, started his own tech company that specializes in web design and IT services, when he was thirteen.  His company is now worth about $3.5 million.

When Ryan Hreljac was six and heard about children in Africa walking long distances to get water, he raised money to build a well for them.  A year later, Ryan's first well was built. Over a dozen years later, Ryan's Well Foundation has completed nearly 700 projects.

If someone told these people they were too young to accomplish great things, they obviously didn't listen.  Good for them!  Do we let the numbers on our driver's license dictate our accomplishments, our dreams, our lives?

Is it all based on what we perceive our life should be at a certain age?  For example, I don't think I had envisioned hosting both pimples and chin hairs at age fifty-five! (What?  Was that TMI?)


So, I'm curious (yes, I've been told I ask too many questions!) If you had amnesia and someone asked how old you felt you were, what would you say
?  And why?



Monday, October 6, 2014

Controlling the Control Freak


On any given day I might worry about ten things—nine of which I have absolutely no control over. Yet nothing stops me from trying to "fix" these concerns of mine. I blame my dad.  We could both be professional worriers, if there were such a job.  As it is, we just drive everyone around us, and ourselves, crazy.

I’ve always felt we control our future, to a certain extent, and to sit back and do nothing to help things along, fix things, make them better… will get you nowhere.  So if I want something bad enough, I pretty much give it my all.  I might not get what I want, but I give it my best shot.

Yet things don’t always turn out the way we want, no matter how much gusto we give them. Because we all know the rules:  Life's not fair.  And we better just accept it.  Fine, I say, as I stamp my foot.  And yes, I’m well aware of the Serenity Prayer, in fact I have the part “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” printed out for myself at home and work.

It doesn’t make it any easier. I'm not big into serenity.  Type A all the way. Give me some problem and my brain becomes like a dogs, focusing on "ball, ball, ball" concentrating on that one thing so hard I might lose sight of the big picture.  Might. 

Because really, I'm smart enough to count my blessings, know that 95% of the world has it wayyyyyy worse than me (and my family), and that life is really pretty damn good.

And I also know when chocolate chip cookies are handed out; they are not all created equal (see me getting revenge on my older brother, photo below). But if it were the other way around, that would be okay.  I know how to bake more.  It's the rest of the uncontrollable nine things on my list I need a little help letting go of. :)

Do you see yourself here?  Are you a worry-wart?  Control freak?  Or are you one of those people who will never die of a heart attack, a go-with-the-flow-no-concerns person?  My husband is one of them.

Which drives me nuts.  Ooh, I need to add that to my Not-Fair-list-of-Things-I-Can't-Control!



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Worth of a Woman


My "baby" girl is getting married next week. Never mind that my "baby" graduated from college a few years ago. And marrying a man she chose for herself, a man who doesn't need to be enticed with a dowry. 

Because my daughter (and every other daughter out there) has a mind of her own, is capable of making her own decisions, and is valuable—no dowry needed. Thankfully, we live in a culture that finally recognizes this.

Years ago women were "given away" to a man in marriage, usually accompanied by a cow or goat as a little carrot waved in front of the man.  As if the daughter herself wasn't enough for the father to give away.  Of course that was back in the days when women had little value placed on them, little chance of speaking their mind, and little opportunity to make their own way in the world.

Remember the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”?  I’d have been one of those strong-willed daughters, determined to choose a man for myself—no matchmaker, thank-you-very-much.

Thankfully, times have changed.  At least in our small slice of the world.  I know there are many countries requiring a dowry for a marriage, and yes, in the news there are still horrifying stories of "dowry death."  Also in the news is the disturbing practice of some Muslim men who arrange marriages with girls under the age of ten.  Girls who have no say in their future, their worth.

I could blog forever about the horrors of the treatment of girls and women in many areas of the world, but right now I’m focusing on the worth of a woman.

Anyone who calls women the “weaker” sex has never met the women I know. Or looked back in the history of their own family at the struggles both men AND women endured in the past.

Let’s look at my great-aunt Unity.  A strong Irish woman who, at the age of fourteen, was promised to a man twice her age who was looking for someone to raise his five children.  Unity’s parents arranged the marriage, shipped her off to the man’s house (with her kicking and screaming, I might add.  She had a good Irish spirit!) She bore him another handful of children, working in the field in the morning, going inside to give birth, then back out in the field at night.  Seriously.

Same with her sister, my great-grandma Hannah, (yes, I was named after this inspiring woman) who not only worked right alongside her husband, but lived another fifty-plus years after he died and continued working their farm alone.

I’m not belittling men in any way.  They are worth their weight in gold—just like women. 

And now I understand what I didn’t years ago as my dad came to walk me down the aisle, handkerchief in his hand and tears in his eyes.

I might not be "giving" my daughter away.  But a little piece of my heart is going with her as she starts this new chapter in her life, following her heart.  No goat required.






Monday, July 7, 2014

I'm getting a wife!

So my husband thinks he is retiring soon.  Well, I guess he KNOWS he is, since he gave his notice, set up his retirement, and is starting to clean out his office.  He might not be calling my bluff after all.

I'm trying to look at the positive, glass-half-full side of this.  He's a cleaner, former bakery owner, absolutely wonderful cook and all-around handy-man, which will make my life outside of work soooooooooo much easier.  In a sense, I'm getting a wife!

I think back to my years growing-up.  My dad came home from work and supper was in the oven, the house was clean, his clothes were pressed, the screen door previously ripped apart by my younger brothers, now repaired by mom as if nothing at all happened during the day.  This, THIS was what I'd now be walking in to after work.

Which is what I'd always imagined my grown-up-let's-pretend life to be.  Only I was the one at home, not the one walking in the house at dinnertime, pretending total exhaustion.  Still... my fairytale (in a sense) was coming true at last!

Yes, sure, we don't have kids at home anymore, there won't be the day-to-day drudgery and exhaustion of endless cleaning up after little ones, stirring a pot of chili with one hand while burping a baby with another and having a toddler hanging from one leg while the other foot is mopping spilled milk from the floor with a paper towel...

And, he won't have the sleep-deprived nights of catapulting yourself out of bed sixteen times each night where you scurry down the hall to try and quiet the screaming baby before it wakes up every animal in the woods within a three mile radius, and then spend each day walking around like Sleepy from Snow White, eyes with bags the size of a shark's jaw, butt dragging like a turtle's tail, and functioning with the memory of a 1979 computer...

More than likely he won't be meeting me at the door with my slippers, newspaper folded up, cracking a beer open for me (if there are any left from his day supply) and hovering over my every-anticipated need from my "hard day at work"...

In fact, there's a good chance he won't even be home when I'm done with work for the day.   After all, most of his friends are already retired, which means there are fish needing to be caught, wild game to be hunted, clay pigeons to shoot, cards to be played, vacation spots to "scope out", four-wheelers begging to be ridden...

Um, so yes, okay, maybe a few things could possibly be different than the vision I'm having.  But other than that... I'm getting a "wife"!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Pick-Me-Up (in honor of Father's Day)

My dad is odd.  Yes, I know I mentioned how goofy my mom is in my blog about her last month, but really, in comparison, my dad wins the prize.

But he’s also cool. He was a pilot in the Air Force, has some very interesting stories about those years, and he even briefly drove a limo for the building tenants where Dear Abby lived, as one of his side jobs.  (We won't get into who got a ride to school in that limo, but it was the same sibling of mine mentioned in my blog about mom, who was nursed and not bottle-fed, like me.)​
  
​And he was a good-looking dad—something my high school girlfriends reminded me of, often.
 ​  
There were times dad worked three jobs so mom could stay home with us kids, and we were told to go to mom for things.  And she did all the disciplining.​

​Except the one and only time I got grounded, right before my 16th birthday.  How convenient—I spent the night of my 16th birthday in my room! As the only daughter, I was supposed to be my dad's "princess."  Unfortunately for dad, mom delegated the grounding job to him.  I remember dad coming into my bedroom to tell me I was grounded.  He looked so miserable, I know he felt worse than I did!  And I felt like I'd let him down.

Years later, when I called my mom to break the news my husband and I were separating, something I braced myself for as my parents are strict Catholics, I sobbed uncontrollably, feeling like I'd not only failed my marriage, but failed my parents as well.  When my mom and I were done talking, with reassurances from her that she was supportive of me, and things would be okay, I remember saying, “Please don't tell dad. He's going to be so disappointed in me."

Mom replied, "Jill, he knows.  He's been on the phone in the basement the whole time listening."  That was it, I cried so hard I couldn’t talk (a rarity for me,) feeling I'd disappointed him again, until he said, "It’s okay, Jill, we love you."  And although my mom had said the same thing, hearing it from my dad—a man who rarely talked of his feelings at that time—helped mend my grieving heart.
  
When my daughters were growing up, they compared some of my dad’s behavior to “Rain Man.”  No, he’d be no help to us in Vegas, but one of their reasons for comparison was his odd habit of walking laps around their ping-pong table as a source of exercise during the winter.  He knew how many laps made a mile​.  A lot.

He's got a great sense of humor, and is a people-person, just like my mom.  He'll ask you a million questions when he meets you, but it is only because he is genuinely interested in what you're saying.  And he'll remember what you said!  At almost 81 years old, his memory is like a steel trap.

Dad is smart, and loves technology—embracing it, when most run the other way at his age. And like my mom, he's a volunteer-aholic and has received awards for his work.  His main focus is Hospice, something that might surprise people who know him from his younger years. As an only child, dad was raised riding the world-revolves around-me horse.

​When dad retired, mom sat him down.  “Listen.  You aren't changing my daily routine so you might want to volunteer with me or find your own things to do because I won't be here to make your lunch every day."  (Or something rather frank like that.)  Dad got the message.  The world was not revolving around him.

So dad also turned to volunteering.  He is very giving and caring, and focuses on making other people's lives better.  One of his volunteer jobs over the years has been to help senior citizens pay their bills and balance their checkbooks (and make sure they aren't getting scammed). What is funny about that is most of the people he helps are younger than he is!

He'd do anything for anybody, you don’t have to be his little princess (sorry, I’m not giving out his phone number!)  And although he is a clean-freak, car-tire-and-motor-oil hoarder, my dad is exactly what I wanted in a dad—a man who is always there when I fall down, to help pick me back up.  And love me, no matter what.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What If?



A teenage girl showed up at our house unexpectedly a few days ago. And I mean unexpected.  I hadn't heard from her in over eight years.  That might not seem like a big deal, but this was no ordinary child.  No ordinary situation.

I had connected with this girl we'll call "G", when she was seven.  I volunteered on my lunch breaks at our local school, reading with children who needed help.  Although she wasn’t one of my reading partners, G and I started a friendship, a Big Sister of sorts.  G’s life was different, and G was different.  And I wondered if I’d be of any help.

I told myself I could get through to this girl, who seemed to live in her own little make-believe world. She was living with her mom and dad at the time. And I soon realized why she retreated to her fairy-tale world.

Call me clueless at age 47. G's life was one I'd never witnessed, and I couldn't grasp why nobody was helping her.   

This girl fell through the system's cracks.  If I wouldn't have seen her lifestyle with my own eyes, I'd never have believed it.  And although the time we spent together every week was important, I felt she was living in quicksand, and I didn’t have the strength to pull her out.  Her family life was a mess, and slowly, this child who had so little already, lost everything.

That she hadn't lost her mind is a miracle.  It all came to a head one night when I was at the police department, waiting to speak with a detective with G and another family member—at 10:30 on a school night.  It was just another night for G.

When we were finished, the detective took me aside.  "You are being sucked into a mess.  I think you're over your head, and you might want to get out."  Oh boy, did I want to get out!  But I'd have just been another person in a long line, abandoning G.

The situation was eventually taken out of my hands.  G was moved out of our area, getting bounced from one place to another.  Our relationship was cut.  And over the years I’ve wondered what happened to her.  And what kind of life she had.

On Sunday, a strange truck pulled up to our house.  And out stepped G.

She'll be a senior in high school next fall.  My jaw would've dropped hearing how her life has gone these past eight years, but it didn’t, because unfortunately, her life continued to be as awful as I’d feared it would.  But as I hugged G, I knew.  She's a fighter, a survivor, and yes, she might have some emotional battle scars that make her unique, but if any of us had lived her life, we would too.

I have her phone number, I know where she lives now, and I'll be in touch. I want to know she'll be okay in (yet another) new school, having to deal with yet another new set of students.

When I was in school, my parents instilled in me to treat others as I'd want to be treated.  I might not have ever bullied anyone, or picked on them, but you know what else I didn't do?  I didn't reach out to those children that faded into the school walls, who walked silently down the hallways, hoping to blend in so nobody would notice they were "different."

I didn't take the time to know or understand them.  And now I ask myself this:  If I was going to be a senior at G's school this fall, how would I treat her?  I’m afraid I know the answer. 

And because of that, I want to stand with G on the gymnasium stage and tell her fellow students "This girl is a survivor.  She may seem different from you, but please do not tease or ridicule her, and please don't ignore her.  She is stronger than you'll likely ever be.  And she deserves much more respect than she'll probably ever get.”

Because none of us want to look back on our life and ask ourselves "What if that was me?"



Thursday, May 8, 2014

Life with Momma Buns

My mom's slippers in the photo should give you a glimpse into what my mom, Bunny, is like. She has never fit into the cookie-cutter mold of moms, which has suited her fine and made our life interesting.  Those slippers of hers would've come in handy when we moved to Minnesota and she'd walk outside barefoot in the snow.

Mom thought everything was funny when I was growing up (no doubt fueled by the endless Erma Bombeck clippings plastered on our fridge.)  She'd chase me around the house with my younger brother's wet diapers, telling me they'd soften my skin.  She'd purposely send Amy, our slobbery bulldog, into the living room if I was sitting on the couch with a boyfriend, knowing full well Amy's gassy fumes would fuel any boy to leave the room within a minute of Amy's entrance.

She filled our home with music and laughter... and I had no idea every child wasn’t as lucky.  Of course I thought her rules were constricting, her concern for my safety, overbearing (as their only daughter, my parents now agree they went overboard.)  After graduation, on the day I turned eighteen, I moved out.  My parents had given me a suitcase for my birthday—I thought they were happy with my decision. Years later, mom said she was crushed by my decision.

Once I moved out, I thought their influence on my life was over, my need for them, history. Oh, how clueless I was! If anything, I needed my mom even more as an adult.  There have been times in my life I’d call my mom, crying so hard I couldn't talk.  In-between my sobs, she'd ask how she could help me.  And she did.  Every single time.

Mom could lead Do-gooders Anonymous; she’s been a constant volunteer for years, always doing for others and asking for very little in return from her family.  Nothing materialistic—just our time and respect.  And she’s about the most down-to-earth person you’ll meet.  Trusting, honest, and funny when she doesn’t mean to be.

Recently, I mentioned to my mom that my older brother, who is a genius (a constant surprise to me!) defied the statistics that babies who are nursed are smarter than bottle-fed babies.  “Oh, I nursed Chris,” mom said. 
“I thought you said you didn’t nurse us kids.”  
“I just didn’t nurse you, Jill.”  
Well, that explains why I’m not a genius.

My parents recently put their home up for sale.  While my dad was out of state, some strange man knocked on their door, asking mom about their house.  Even though they had it listed with a realtor, a sign clearly posted in their yard, my mom welcomed in this potential murderer-thief and showed him all around their home.  I didn’t waste my breath scolding her for being too-trusting.  It’s mom—that’s how she rolls.
  
Years ago, I worked in the loan department for a bank that got taken over by the government.  In all the stressful chaos, our secretary/receptionist quit.  So my extrovert mom volunteered to fill in until they could hire someone, thinking she could just visit with customers.  During that time, they brought in a new bank president.  One day he asked my mom to do some typing for him.
My mom informed him, “Oh, I don’t do typing!” 
Clueless, he came to me.  “What’s up with our receptionist?  That lady told me she doesn’t do typing.”  
Embarrassed, I told him that “that lady” was my mom, and to just give me the typing.

It wasn’t the first time my mom embarrassed me.  It won’t be the last.  I’m good with that—that’s how Momma Buns rolls.