Saturday, December 14, 2013

Clueless at Christmas

     During the holidays, bookstore shelves groan under the weight of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” type books telling us what we already know about relationships. Men and women have a slight communication malfunction. And when it comes to holiday gift giving, that miscommunication can be magnified. A lot.
     Women, it just might be worth it to print this out and tape it to the front of the TV for your significant other to see. It could make this season run a little smoother for all involved.
     Speaking from my experience, men who can easily understand a friend’s grunt while hunting to mean “there’s an 8-point buck 50 yards to your left.” Or get what another guy means when he says “dude,” misunderstand when their significant other says, “Don’t get me anything for Christmas.”
     I’ll admit I was the martyr who uttered those crazy words years ago. Selflessly thinking of our growing family, I offered up that noble thought to my husband, trying to save us some money. Ultimately, I blame my mom. Fifty-seven years ago she told my dad that he didn’t need to get her flowers for their first anniversary.   She hasn’t received an anniversary present ever since. Martyrs run in our family.
     It took me a few years of singing the “I-don’t-need-anything” song to my husband (who is a very thoughtful gift-giver when given free reign) before I realized how unfair I was being to him. Here’s my theory: How can I expect him to get into the spirit of the holidays if I deny him the shopping experience?
     Muzak pulsating the season’s songs into his blood, while frenzied bargain hunters strung out on sugar-cookie-overload clip the back of his heel with their heaping carts, as he’s surrounded by screaming children demanding their presents early… I would hate to begrudge him that experience.
     Honestly, how will men ever understand why we build up the family savings every year by shopping bargains if they don’t experience it firsthand? According to my mathematical calculations, when I buy a coat that was originally $150 and it’s on sale 50% off along with my favorite little sign above the rack telling me to take an additional 75% off the sale price—well everyone knows that 50% and 75% equal more than 100%. I’m pretty sure that coat is mine now along with a 25% kickback! See, if they don’t do the shopping themselves, how will they ever appreciate how much money we "save" by shopping?
     Sometimes men have a little problem understanding the word “gift.” That might be where our miscommunication comes in. Some smart women I know say they have to be very, very specific in what they consider a “gift.” We could all learn from them.
     I know a woman who received a package of dusting wands, another woman was blessed with a vacuum. Yet another was given a toaster. A four-slicer… but still. Apparently we are sending out the wrong signals.
     Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand the true meaning of the holidays and also that it’s better to give than to receive. Honestly, I get it. I’m just saying that if we want to receive something that makes us feel appreciated and loved, something men put more thought into than picking their fantasy football team; we might need to send out a little more detailed signals. Over the years I’ve discovered “I promise to read your mind” was not one of our wedding vows.
     Guys—I guess what I meant to say is we’ll be thankful for whatever you take the time to shop for. Just remember—make sure it’s on sale!!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chaos and Cranberries

Please bear with me to the end (before judging me!) :)

My husband and I are empty-nesters, and love it. We are also parents to six awesome adult children and a growing number of loveable grandchildren, and live on a lake in Minnesota… so we have a lot of “visitors”, especially in summer.

Our house can go from sixty decibels to double that in a moment’s notice on many weekends. Sometimes the house feels like it’s pulsating with a heartbeat of its own… the grandchildren, TV, grown-ups trying to be heard above it all, barking dogs… and a lot of laughter. And sometimes it can get a little crazy.

The cleaning, food prep, laundry, before/during/after is daunting (and yes, they are all great about helping out!) and I think it's the switch from easy to hectic that gets me every time. I know, it sounds like I'm complaining--and I'm not, because I know that every single piece of effort I just mentioned is worth it. I know that.

But sometimes, when I’m escaping out the door for a quick trip up town for more milk and bread, my feet crunching on dropped cereal on the floor, and scouring the cluttered-with-everything-under-the-sun counter for my car keys, while gingerly handing over a sleeping baby and maneuvering around a sword fight between grand-kids, I find myself breathing a calming sigh of relief in the peace of my car as I head to town.

On the short trip, I appreciate the quiet, already looking forward to crawling into bed that night, even though it might only be 10 a.m. And just as I start to question my sanity, I drive by homes in our small town where I know for a fact, people are sitting inside… all alone. And wishing they had a little chaos and company to fill their lonely days.

And I remember. I think back to years ago when I felt lonely—in a house too-quiet and too-clean. Never again do I want that daily solitude, I remind myself, never again.

I also think of the main character in the book I've written. I made the poor woman so lonely! I killed off all her friends while dragging her through an empty nest and divorce. (Mean of me, I know!) SHE would have loved to be a guest in our chaotic house, reveling in the noise and clutter.

So, give me cereal crunching under my toes, chocolate hand-prints on the windows, endless laundry and total exhaustion. It reminds me I've been blessed with people I care about and am lucky enough to have in my life. Nobody sang it better than Barbra Streisand ~ "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."

For this upcoming holiday season, my wish for you is this: A little chaos with your cranberries, and maybe a fallen piece of pumpkin pie squished between your toes.
Then I’ll know you've been truly blessed!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hunting season

So I’ve been a little behind in the blog-department… life, and nice summer/fall days have deterred me. But all that freedom and enjoying the outdoors will change this weekend.

If you don’t live in an area where hunting is rampant, you’ll likely be unable to relate here. But feel free to sympathize as my life becomes engulfed by blaze orange (after a season covered in camouflage).

Simple walks or jogging become hazardous, unless you’re covered head-to-toe in lovely, blaze orange attire—which really accentuates your pallor this time of year.

Leftover Halloween candy is suddenly confiscated by deer hunters to stuff into their coat pockets and inhale while they waste, I mean hunt, their hours away in a tree stand.

The thing is; I used to be one of them. City-slicker-me, who had no idea growing up where beef and pork came from until I spent some time on a farm. After getting married and moving “up north”, I was enlightened as to what people do around here to deer. Shoot them.

Yes, poor Bambi—and his mom and dad, are ruthlessly hunted, and then (oh, I don’t want to think about this part) mysteriously appear on our dinner plates a few weeks later. Savages, yes. After going through the butchering process myself, I can assure you I wait a good long time before I can stomach any venison. I can still see those soulful brown eyes gazing at me when I close my eyes.

I have to tell you, I wasn’t your typical hunter. I was told “Deer can smell you a mile away, and can hear every little move. Don’t eat anything out there, not even gum, and don’t move a muscle.”

Hah! I’m not a good “sitter”, plus who wants to just waste time swaying way up high in a deer stand while sllllllllooowwwlllllly turning your head to look for deer? Not me. So I’d pack a lunch, and bring a book. Yes, a book. Read a page, gaze around me, read another page, repeat. I’m here to tell you, it’s a productive way to hunt. I had many years of success!

I actually feel sorry for the area men. For two weeks before hunting, they can’t sleep. Or, if they do, they’re hunting the elusive buck in their dreams. Then their neck swells to twice its normal size as they go into “rut”. And, if they actually shoot the elusive buck, then their head swells to twice its normal size!

So maybe instead of feeling sorry for me, I should ask you to empathize with our deer hunters. Or, at least, please keep them in your prayers. As annoying as this “season” can be, we’d like it if they all get through it safely.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Is "Love"?

What is love? (In my mind that question is quickly followed by 'baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more' thanks to the song by Haddaway!)

Following that song though, I have a hundred answers to a question with no one right answer.

We writers write about it, we sing of it, read about it, think about it, hope for it, and crave it.

Images flash through my mind, images of what I interpret true love, the deep down, with-you-no-matter-what kind of love, to be.

They’re not the “love” you usually read or hear of in a song… not the “oh, look at those six-pack-abs” lusty-love, or the “I’m taking a bat to his truck for doing me wrong” love.

I’m talking the real-deal love.

And this is what I think about: The elderly couple I watched recently while waiting in the clinic reception area. With canes resting against their chairs, they talked with each other as if they were best friends. When they were ready to leave, both reached out to the other and helped each other up. Now I don’t know how long they’ve been married, but from a distance, I’m going to say I witnessed a long-time-real-love couple.

Or the person who day in and day out, through rain, snow, or wish-I-was-outside-sunshine, goes to visit their beloved who is in a care center, nursing home, hospital, or an invalid in their own home. Those people who want to spend time with the person who means the world to them, cherishing those precious moments with someone who may not even have the ability to speak anymore.

And then there’s the love of the young. The child who has just given you a near-fatal heart attack after running out in front of a car… the child you would like to now shake for making your heart stop, but only because you love them soooooo much and the thought of living without them is something you never want to experience.

Or the child who kept you up night after night for the first six months of their life, the one who made you a zombie during the day, that child who you live and breathe for and would do anything for. The real deal.

The best feeling in the world is to be truly loved. It’s not what that person can buy you or do for you, it’s the security of their love, the knowledge that they will be there for you.

No matter what. The Beatles had it right… All we need is love.

When you think of "true love", what comes to your mind?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Losing George

So, the news is out--George Clooney is a free man again. It comes as a bit of a shock to me. I was under the impression he and I were still together. Apparently not.

How embarassing to find out about our breakup through the media.

Maybe he found out about my husband? I'm not sure what set him off this time. Next thing you know he'll be walking the red carpet with some young floozy half his age, trying to make me look bad by replacing me with a slightly younger (and likely very high-maintenance) woman.

She will come up short. I mean how can she compete with a mid-western woman who has no problem going a week without makeup, clips coupons, loves to dig in the dirt, considers a meal at McDonalds a "night out", and wears clothes that are ten years old. I saved that man a boat-load of cash. And this is the thanks I get. Public humiliation.

I whined about our breakup the other night to my husband. And got very little sympathy from him. Probably because he and Ashley Judd are apparently still an item.

Just wait until she dumps him. Then he'll be a little more sympathetic.

Until then, I'm turning to you... I'm sure you can relate!

Friday, May 31, 2013

One thing leads to another…

I was determined to get at some long-overdue writing projects tonight.  I’m not sure where I went wrong…

After supper I turned on my laptop, took out my notes for my writing, and was just about to sit down when I thought I’d quick load the dishwasher.

Looking out the window while loading the dishes, I saw the clothes still hanging on the clothesline.  Knowing rain was coming tonight I went outside and took the clothes off the line.

Brought them in, folded them and put them away.

Throwing out a t-shirt of my husband’s that could have walked itself to the trash, I realized the trash needed to be taken out to the garage.

Which I noticed was full of leaves from the wind blowing them in.

So I swept out the leaves, and couldn’t help but notice the dust on the car.

That all but begged me to wash it, so I did, and then dumped the bucket of extra water over some of my plants in my flowerbed.

Which needed weeding.  And dividing.  And transplanting.

After all that digging and hauling, I went inside, drank a gallon of water, and was hungry again.  Specifically for a root beer float.

In a house with no root beer, or ice cream, I then had to make a trip to the grocery store.  Where, as long as I was there, I picked up items for the weekend.

And for some reason, when I got in the house, unpacked the groceries, made my root beer float, and finally sat down to eat it—in front of my computer—I found I was too tired to concentrate on writing.

I’m a little unsure of where I went wrong.
But I know one thing—for some reason, I didn't get any writing done tonight.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A slice of Perspective served today

It was a long weekend, beginning with a head cold and sore throat, and feeling like I’d rather crawl back in bed yesterday morning instead of driving to the Twin Cities for a wedding.  But I wasn’t going to miss it ~ Jake is the youngest son of my best friend who died last year. She couldn’t be there, I would.

Yesterday was long, fun, emotional (I sobbed like a baby through most of the thankfully-short ceremony), and tiring.  After hitting the water park this morning at the hotel with kids, I was ready to head home.  Meaning about six stops in Brainerd at stores on my way through the town.

By late afternoon I couldn’t wait to get home and relax.  I was sure I’d hit every red light today and every clerk at the stores seemed to move in slow motion.  The final straw was my $10 off coupon of a $10 or more purchase.  I was stopping at that store to get something “free” even if I had to crawl in on my hands and knees.

Of course, this store is known for their coupons being only good on nothing anyone really wants to buy.  But I was determined I wasn’t leaving that store until I got $10 off of something-I-didn’t-need-anyway.

After way too much time spent in that store, I was done, my car pointed towards home.  And not a moment too soon as I was very frustrated at how long everything had taken me today ~ I was going to arrive home about two hours later than I’d planned.

Practically peeling out of the mall parking lot, I passed a woman hunched over some makeshift walker on wheels, shuffling, stopping, shuffling some more.  I drove right past, still ticked off at how long I’d wasted in the last store.

I drove about two blocks before I stopped.  My barely-registered flash of that woman was suddenly haunting my brain.  And my Catholic Guilt kicked in.

I turned my car around, not even knowing for sure what I could do for this woman.  Give her a ride somewhere?  Her makeshift cart had many things hanging from it, and with my full backseat, I had no clue where I’d put everything if I offered to give this elderly woman a ride.
Finding myself pulled up next to her, I’d kept my eye on her and how little progress she’d made since I carelessly drove past her minutes earlier.

When I stopped the car and rolled down my window, I was surprised to see the woman who turned to greet me.  She was likely younger than me.

I asked where she was going.  “Burger King.”
“How far away do you live?”
“Two blocks.”

My mind digested this a moment.  I’d watched her cover maybe 25 yards in five minutes and this woman was walking two blocks each way to go eat at Burger King?

Eyeing up her walker, I knew it wouldn’t fit in my car.  How could I help this woman who was answering my nosy questions so easily, as if her crippled, hunched- over body was somehow my business?

“Are you okay?  I see you keep stopping.”
“I get tired so I stop every few feet.”
What could I say to that?

I ended up handing her money, telling her I’d like to buy her a few meals.
Then I left.  And thought about that woman for my forty-five minute drive home.
Why did I give her money?  She hadn’t asked for it… was it guilt?  Pity?  She didn’t want my pity and certainly I had nothing to feel guilty about.  But I did.  On my drive home I thought about how impatient I was at the fact I was “running over schedule”, especially after a long weekend where I was feeling run down.

What a joke!  That woman would never know the ease of stepping on the gas after waiting at a red light, to take off and fly down the freeway.  My aches and pains from a cold would likely be a walk in the park for her compared to the aches and pains her body must feel.  Every single day.

And her meal at Burger King was probably the highlight of her day, compared to me wrinkling my nose up at another fast-food meal.

The money I'd saved with my stupid coupons on unnecessary purchases, meant nothing to me. 

And I’ll forget what I bought far sooner than I’ll forget her.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother-Daughter relationships - paying forward the embarrassment

My mother can flip her eyelids back.  I’m not bragging when I state this, it’s just an unfortunate fact.  Of course, I’m sure she rarely does it now since she doesn’t have the audience she once had for her tricks.  Namely, my friends in grade and high school.

Generally, moms want what is best for their children so it blindsides children when their mom goes out of her way to embarrass her kids.  It’s a talent mom’s seem to develop around the time their first child reaches middle school.  It happens whether the gratuitous words of ‘adoptive’, ‘step’, ‘foster’, ‘grand’, etc. precedes ‘mom.’  Whoever the woman was who raised you, surely took the class titled ‘How to embarrass my child’.  If you ask my children, they’ll suggest I took that class more than once.

Here’s the thing, I am only trying to outdo what my mom did to me.  She performed headstands on the grass while my friends and I practiced cheerleading, checked the mail barefoot in the snow in winter (that was before I understood the term ‘hot flash’) walking down our long, cold, driveway.  Then there the endless bake sales we’d have at my Catholic grade school (back when you could bring home-made food to school) where I discovered not every mom ‘sampled’ their pan of bars before sending them to school with their child.  Oh, if I could have just fit under by desk!

Nothing fazed mom.  When I’d plead my case of horror/embarrassment/humiliation over her impact on my social status, she’d just smile and say something witty.  She found humor in everything and pasted our fridge with Erma Bombeck newspaper clippings.  Mom didn’t care what she looked like but she did care about what was going on in our lives.  As a teenager, I’d have called her a busybody, always asking what my friends and I were doing.  Now, in retrospect, I’d have to call it caring.  The way she’d sit at the kitchen table at night when my older brother and I would get in late from high school events, hypnotizing us with her great homemade chocolate chip cookies and extracting information about our night from us as we devoured the cookies, not realizing we were smoothly being interrogated.

I was sure my mom had plenty of flaws, apparently my friends didn’t.  They thought she was funny.  Even my boyfriends liked her.  I was positive they were just being polite.  I wanted my mom to be invisible.

That is, until I needed someone.  The few times in my life where I honestly felt like my world was crumbling, who do you think I called?  My mom. Even if I knew she had no fix for my problem, just knowing she’d always be there for me, to share in my pain, which is a lot harder to do than sharing the joy, was comforting.

The day I turned eighteen, I moved out and was sure I’d walked away from any impact my parents had made on me.  Then I became a mom a few years later.  I was positive I hadn’t inherited anything from my mom, yet I found myself uttering the same phrases to my kids, the same threats, reassurances, and rules I was raised with, and the same tendency to embarrass my kids that I swore I’d never do!

I may not flip my eyelids and I have never been able to hold a headstand.  Instead, I tend to break out some embarrassing dance moves.  And I love to dress up in character.  Knowing my actions mortify my children, I just can’t seem to help myself. 

The cycle has continued.  My daughters, who had their own odd tendencies as children, are the same ones who were (and still are) horrified by my antics, swearing up and down that they will never embarrass their children.  Hah!  My oldest, Jamie, who is soon to deliver her first child, used to cram her feet into cabbage patch shoes when she was a toddler, and as a pre-teen, decided to tape one of her eyes shut and call herself ‘eye-patch Patty’.  Then there’s the day she shaved her forearms. Don’t ask me why.  When my daughter Heidi was in grade school, she’d cut and pin material together, dressing in bizarre ways, even by my standards.  And then there was her wig fetish and the Elvis sideburns she made and wore.

I can see my vindication on the horizon and I’m hoping my mom (who started it all) will be by my side.  I envision my mom and me at Jamie’s house when her kids are teens and she is walking around the house with her feet crammed in cabbage patch shoes and tape over one eye while their friends look on.  And, if things go right, a similar scene will play out at Heidi’s home as my mom and I help her create outlandish outfits to wear in front of her mortified children and their friends. Then I will know that I’ve done my job right as a mom and passed the torch of humor and humiliation!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

Think of all the times you’ve been in a stressful situation.  Maybe your car broke down, or you needed medical help.  Maybe it was something as simple as someone letting you in line ahead of them at a checkout lane, seeing you with two cranky toddlers and a harried look on your face.

Most of the time it’s a stranger who steps in to help, someone we might never see again.  Someone who just made our day a little (or a lot) easier.

We sometimes forget it's not an ugly world out there, that overall, we are inherently good people.  For me, over these past weeks, I’ve received endless help from fellow women fiction writers that I’ve never even met (yet.)  And every day it amazes me that these women, busy with their own writing careers, take the time out to help me, and others, who are just getting started.

We hear the term ‘pay it forward’ a lot.  And I understand why.  When people go out of their way to help us, with no ulterior motive or expectations of getting anything in return, it gives us such a warm fuzzy that you can’t help but want to share it with the next person.

We see it happen on the news every day and, especially, recently in Boston. Some gestures are life-saving (as those were), and some, like the women authors helping me, save us emotionally. 

If (when) I get my book published (a book which happens to focus on my main character reaching out for help from strangers, and receiving it tenfold), I will have a long list of women to thank, women I have yet to meet face-to-face.  Women who were there for me when I needed a helping hand.  Something that happens every day in the world around us.  Which truly is the kindness of strangers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A loss of words

For someone who lives in a small town in rural Minnesota, I’ve been spoiled.  For years, I’ve enjoyed the comfort of ordering books on-line from our library.  A few clicks, my library card number, and I hit “send.”

Notification comes by e mail, and I’m excited when I receive that e mail, knowing the books I’ve requested from a library miles away will be delivered by the Bookmobile within a couple of weeks.  Talk about convenient; it parks across the street from my day job.

How nice it’s been over the years, to request just about anything I want, to be greeted at the Bookmobile by a cheery face, and know that I have a month to savor the books.

Unfortunately, it’s all coming to an end.  I want to stomp my foot, to scream “it’s unfair!” and to insist they can’t do this to me and all the other loyal, rural book-aholics.  But they can, and “they” are.  Yes, I understand these things called budget cuts, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Haven’t we, as a society, been greatly lacking in our children wanting to pick up a book to read instead of playing a video game, watching TV, or playing any other electronic device?  Instead of losing themselves in a book… allowing their imagination to expand?  Why make it harder for everyone to get their hands on books?

I feel like it is one giant leap backwards for mankind, and yes, maybe I’m just singing the “poor me” song right now.  But I know I’m not alone.  There’s a whole choir of us that are going to be singing the Library Loss song soon.  And it’s not going to be pretty.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Woman's (hi)Story

Last week, the magazine I write for (Her Voice) celebrated ten years of publishing, and with that, also received an award for second place out of all magazines published by newspapers in Minnesota.

At our Her Voice Gala, our editor spoke about the success of the magazine, the wonderful women profiled over those ten years, and also about how important those editions were to help preserve these women's stories for their families in years to come.  Women who, years ago, wouldn’t have had their story told, because years ago, women, for the most part, stood on the side-lines, kept in the background, and were rarely mentioned in newspapers or books.

Women in history, whose families will never know their story.

Over the years, I’ve written about a variety of women from central Minnesota, women whose stories deserved to be told.  One was about a woman who had to decide whether or not to pull the plug on her newborn daughter’s life, another was a woman who has spent her entire life in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy.  There was also a wife who weathered more than seventy years of marriage, yet another who endured the Camps of WWII, and also a young woman who was forced to give her child up for adoption… the stories are endless.  Stories like these, and many others, have been preserved in our writings, because they needed to be.

I’m named after my great-grandma Hannah, a tall, strong, woman who ran her own farm and died the year before I was born.  Sure, there are a few family stories handed down about Hannah over the generations, but I sure wish someone would have been around sixty plus years ago to preserve her story for me.

I'm thankful we live in a time where society realizes women's lives are important enough to be written about, preserved for their family history, and especially, that men are reading these stories too, because they understand the importance of women in history.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Un-Princess Diaries

As the only daughter in our family (blessed? with three brothers), you would have thought I'd have been raised somewhat princess-like.  Didn't happen.  Still isn't happening.  Our parents made sure I had as long of a list of chores (I'm quite certain it was longer) as my brothers, there was no sitting around being waited on or catered to with me.

But maybe that's okay.  Maybe that taught me at an early age to "put my back into it" and try hard.  (My husband recently made the mistake of saying the above quote to me when we were in a curling tournament and I was sweeping like mad.  If you saw my back, you'd know there isn't much to "put into" anything.)

Anyway, being raised un-princess-like gave me good work ethics, and as we all know, if you really want something, you need to put some effort into it.  Usually a lot of effort.

I've talked to sooooooooooo many other women writer's, and I hear the same thing over and over from them.  "I get up and write from 4 to 6 a.m. every morning before getting the kids up and getting ready for my day job."  Or, "I make all my meals for the week on a Sunday so I can have dinner ready for the family and write after supper when the kids do their homework."  The list of ways to get things done is endless.

Which proves a point ~ if you really want to do something, you'll find a way.  And the time.  No matter if it's exercise (see my story "Runnin Down a Dream" on my website), going back to college, or writing a book, most things are possible if you really want to get it done.

I'm guessing all those women who are up at four a.m. to write were also raised in un-princess-like ways.  Thanks mom and dad, I guess being raised without a princess crown was best for me after all.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The foundation for my book

A few years ago, I was faced with the knowledge I was losing my best friend.  She was fighting a battle I feared she wouldn't win, and she didn't. 

And it got me thinking.  I've written for years for a Minnesota magazine for women, and have a "writer's brain" I'd love to quiet down once in a while... but it rarely does.  So, my "what if?" brain kept bugging me, asking me "what would you do if you lost all your closest friends at once?"

It was a floodgate of thoughts, emotions, situations, solutions... and it became a story that took on a life of it's own (as they usually do.)  I am finally at the stage where I'm ready to give wings to this women's fiction book, that has felt like a child born years ago, one which I worried over so much I thought I'd never feel comfortable setting it free!  Now, to hunt down an agent...

It's time now.  Mostly because there are other women in my head who won't stop jabbering, itching to tell their stories in my next novels.  And so, to keep myself from going crazy, I've got to let them have their say!

The empty towels symbolize her friends she's lost