Write Up My Alley


 

My Sunday morning started off with my coffee splashing out of the cup onto the front seat of my car.  Of course there were no stray napkins around to soak up the mess before it stained the upholstery, my pants leg and part of the sleeve on my coat.

Then there were the fifty-mile an hour winds that helped push me across the parking lot of church.  The weather man predicted another snow filled day in Missouri with the high of 32.  Guess I shouldn’t complain since it was 72 degrees yesterday.  Seems Mother Nature refuses to allow us to enjoy spring type weather for more than 24 hours.

The lunch plans I had looked forward to all week were cancelled because of the snow prediction.  All minor disappointments in the big scheme of things, but I could feel myself slipping like a Slinky down a long staircase.  It’s been a hard winter with too many similar days.

I’m not a dumpster diver, but I do get down in the dumps sometimes and wander around aimlessly looking for direction.  Sometimes it’s hard to find my way back to the main road.  I began considering the familiar options.

Hubby refused to play Sorry, Chinese Checkers or Dominoes with me anymore.  He headed to the bedroom to watch some sports.  I roamed through the kitchen to look for some comfort food.

Chocolate’s my first crutch in desperate times.  There are three problems with that choice: weight gain (which I certainly don’t need); there isn’t a speck of the dark sweet treat in the house; it’s still Lent and I gave it up for forty days, that’s why there’s none in the house!

Wine is my second choice.  Too bad my daughter and I consumed it all last night as we played cards and celebrated her birthday.  Besides, drinking wine before noon just isn’t a good idea if you want to get anything accomplished the rest of the day.

As I walked through the dining room (my official writing space), my laptop glared at me.  No, really, it did.  If I knew how to program it, my screensaver would say STOP PROCRASTINATING!  Still, I wasn’t ready to commit to hours glued to the keyboard without some assistance.  I wandered through the house looking for another distraction.

Tucked in the nightstand drawer I locate the MP3 player my daughter’s boyfriend loaded for me some years ago.  (Please, you didn’t think I did it myself did you?)  I turned it on and it immediately shuts itself off.  So I begin searching for a new battery and find one in the freezer (someone told me it makes them last longer).  I spent the next five minutes warming it up before I insert it into the small music player.

I gathered all the papers for a new project I’m supposed to be working on and sat down by the computer, but my hands were cold from messing with the AA, so I headed back to the bedroom and dug out a sweater that was packed away in hopes that it wouldn’t be needed again. 

Finally, I forced myself to begin pecking away on the keyboard, but instead of working on the new project, I started writing this post.  The good news is that I was no longer headed down the dark depressing road; I was playing in the alley.  Maybe I’ll find my way back before the day is done.

What do you do when grey skies hover overhead?  What are the little distractions that help you procrastinate?

Unexpected Visitor


My dining room table still serves as my writing space. Old habits are hard to break. I’ve spent so many hours there working on the rewrites of my novel that the chair cushion has a permanent imprint of my derriere on it.

I like to sit so that I have a clear vision of the bay window in my living room. The nook must be empty of clutter so that I can envision myself sitting with a steamy cup of java. On occasion, my characters join me in conversation or act out a romantic scene. OK, maybe you have to be a serious writer to relate.

There is one item that sits in the right hand corner of the nook, but normally I am able to ignore its presence. It’s my husband’s weather alert radio that only chooses to blast its warnings during the middle of the night. (I know that’s its purpose, but I like my sleep!)

Recently, on a rare sunny afternoon, I gazed through the nearly translucent sheers to the barren yard across the street. I envisioned how pleasant it would be when leaves bud out on the towering maple tree and the brown grass turns to emerald green.

My dream dissipated when I noticed a foreign object next to the small black radio. I furrowed my brow as I focused in on the intrusion. My mind struggled to accept what I saw. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I pushed back my chair and stood up to check out the unusual item. Perhaps it was a joke, I thought.

The sudden movement startled the foot long furry creature and he dashed under the couch. A squirrel! How could a squirrel be sitting in the alcove of my living room window? I did what most women would do. I yelled for my husband.

“Wart! There’s a squirrel in here!”

“What?” He responds without moving.

“A squirrel!” I call out from a more remote location in the hall way.

“Where?” He says as he drags himself away from the television show he was watching in the bedroom.

“In the living room!” My voice has elevated to a scream as he makes his way to my side.

“What’s he doing in here?” He asks as he searches the room and sees nothing.

“I don’t know.” I spout in frustration. “He’s under the couch.” I point to the corner of the room where I last saw the frightened animal.

“We’ll have to let him out through the French doors.” He says as he moves into the dining room.

“The doors are all taped. Remember?” I recalled my fury the day he decided too much air was coming in around the door frame. His answer to the problem was a large roll of grey tape.

My husband hands me the plastic gate that we use when our grand dog visits.

“Keep him from going into one of the other rooms,” he commands.

“I don’t think this is going to do it.” I reply as I dutifully follow his instructions.

The squirrel dashes back to the window seat, trying desperately to escape the maddening conversation, I’m sure. I listened to the tape being torn off the metal frame and tried to decide what to do if the visitor scurried my way. Fortunately, the frightened squirrel dashed back under the couch.

A blast of cold winter air greeted me as a sign that the patio door was now opened. My husband returned to the living room and tried to lure the errant critter out from his hiding place. I offered him a broom from the kitchen. Fortunately, the squirrel saw the opportunity to flee and he made a direct path out the door onto the deck.

“Should’ve got a picture,” my husband suggested a little too late.

We laughed heartily as we went room to room looking for the port of entry. Satisfied that we had none, we surmised that it must have slipped in through a door left ajar earlier in the day.

My husband retrieved the roll of grey tape and resealed the door. I shook my head in disappointment that the weather still required the extreme action and in anticipation of the gummy residue that will be mine to remove come spring. He returned to the bedroom and I sat down at the laptop to continue my rewrites.

I glanced up at the window seat and wondered how long it would take before I would stop seeing the furry brown squirrel looking back at me. I hope he doesn’t interfere with my romantic characters.

Variable Weather Ahead


Like chameleons, the maples transform their luscious green cloaks to crimson and gold foliage. Shades of ChangeDSCN0101 Shorts and T-shirts are replaced with long sleeves and jeans on my early morning walks. The last few tomatoes have been plucked from the vines and the stakes stored in the garage until next year’s harvest. These unmistakable signs of fall stir a conflict of emotions within me.

Fields of pumpkins ready for harvest, colorful baskets of mums Chrysanthemumand the sweet smell of cider bring a smile to my face. I cringe at the thought of frigid winter winds, shoveling mounds of heavy snow and scrapping ice from frozen windshields. Red and green store displays with signs that warn of the number of shopping days until Christmas cause my blood pressure to rise in frustration.

National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) http://nanowrimo.org/en/faq/how-nanowrimo-works
has the ability to elevate all those emotions within 30 days. Still, I cannot resist the challenge of setting a lofty goal and working diligently to achieve it.

The first time I challenged myself to participate in the NANOWRIMO experience, excitement filled my every thought. With nothing more than two characters created in my mind some ten years prior, I counted the hours waiting for November 1. Pads of yellow paper and a selection of the finest writing pens rested patiently on the table. DSCN0788 Much like nuts hoarded by squirrels, bags of chocolate were stashed in secret places. Thirty day warnings were given to my husband and daughter of the madness ahead.

Surprisingly, the first three chapters flowed like melted butter across a mound of warm mashed potatoes. Before then end of week two, the side dish had stiffened and the melted goo sat atop the mountain in a pool waiting to be stirred. By week three, I was ready to toss the unattractive mound into the trash, but the encouragement from the staff who support NANOWRIMO insisted that if I warmed up the concoction in the microwave, it wwould be edible once again. There were roadblocks and detours, but on November 31, I had completed 55,000 words and my first novel. DSCN0722

Excitement, surprise, frustration, hope, and a sense of accomplishment all rolled into one large binder. The roller coaster ride was exhilarating and well worth the late nights in front of my computer.

Procrastination, lingering doubts and limited resources have kept the book in manuscript form. Still, when the weather changes and the email from NANOWRIMO arrives reminding that I need to prepare, the urge to start another book tugs at me until I relent.

Last year, my story came to an end after just 25,000 words. Brief disappointment joined my list of emotions, still, I accomplished more than I had in the 11 months prior to the event. I’m confident that when I start the rewrites, the book will develop into a sequel to my first novel.

My mind is already buzzing with new characters, plots and possibilities. Will you be joining me along with the thousands of others who always wanted to write a book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gratitude Challenge


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Unsubstantial fear seldom lingers long enough to take root in my mind and suck me into its clutches. Perhaps my eternal optimism makes me somewhat delusional in that I always strive for a positive outcome when faced with a negative situation. Some might caution that concerns about the aging process fall into the realism category rather than just an apparition. As I near the age of collecting social security, the search for a balance between the two worlds becomes more difficult.

While the days of scheduled doses of meds for high blood pressure remain at arms length, wrestling with uncle Arthur (aka: arthritis) has become all too familiar. During one of my restless nights of trying to find a position that did not apply pressure to an unhappy hip or knee, which is nearly impossible if you sleep on your side, my mind began to slip into a dark abyss. Abhorring the notion of getting back up to take something for the pain, I began searching for an alternative distraction. Prayer often serves as my relief and after a few decades of the Rosary, I eventually squirmed myself into an acceptable shape with the use of extra pillows and a little luck.

As I mentally traveled some of the by-ways in my journey, I wondered if I could somehow avoid the daily use of pills by pre-medicating with gratitude. Could Philosophical Schools of Thought delay the inevitable aches that accompany the Golden Years? And with that in mind, I challenged myself to write at least one good fortune each day, for at least a month, and see if it made a difference. Even if it doesn’t aide in warding off the need to swallow an Aleve now and then, the resulting list of blessings might come in handy when (or if) I become physically or mentally challenged and need an affirmation of the prosperity I have enjoyed for so long.

And so began the month of August. With pen in hand, I began testing my inspirational hypothesis.

August 1: Today I’m thankful for more than 22,000 days of exceptionally good health. So many others have been challenged from birth, yet for some reason, I have been one of the lucky ones. Short of a broken wrist and irritated gall bladder, my visits to the doctor have been few and far between. Meanwhile, my volunteer hospice visits warn me how fortunate I have been. Even my worst day does not compare with what others are experiencing.

August 2: I joke about the challenges of being together with my spouse 24/7. Seems we’re glued at the hip. Reality is, I am blessed to share my retired years with my caring and playful partner. Just last year, three of my dear friends buried their husbands, leaving them to struggle alone. Everyday household chores, decisions and adjustments to finances create new hurdles for them to overcome, besides the silence of an empty home and the loss of a faithful friend with whom to share their thoughts. My heart aches for each of them and watching their struggles deepens my appreciation for the gift of being married nearly 42 years.

August 3: Bright morning rays pour through my bedroom window long before I’m ready to rise each morning. A room-darkening shade could take care of that, but the greeting serves as a reminder that my eyesight allows me to revere a sunrise at my choosing. A world void of masterfully detailed butterflies, brilliantly perfect flowers and warm precious smiles would be difficult to endure. DSCN0372Fall Bouquet

August 4: Mother’s don’t get much better than the one who raised and nurtured me. She would have been 85 today and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her unselfish ways. Tears still fill my eyes with each memory, yet, I strive to celebrate the 82 years she spent with our family, and not dwell on the years she has been gone. Mom and PumpkinsHappy Birthday Mom. Miss you bunches.

I’ll continue to share my thoughts through my blog as the month progresses. Why not join me in my gratitude challenge and share some of your thoughts.

Pen Pals in Today’s World


Computers rock! LaptopComputer
I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it is true. I’ve often written post in support of pen and paper (Rock, Paper, Laptop). Don’t get me wrong, they still occupy plenty of space in my home and always will. Yet, my appreciation and respect for my keyboard increased significantly during the past five weeks.

My daughter sent me a link, https://www.coursera.org/courses?stats=upcoming, because she knew I might be interested in taking a class that was being offered, Crafting an Effective Writer. Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. I’m all about learning and jumped at the chance to take a free class to update my grammar and punctuation skills. For the record, the site also offers many classes that have nothing to do with writing.

Besides refreshing my over 60 brain on the proper use of pronoun antecedent agreement and compound-complex sentences, it connected me to the rest of the world, much like pen pals could when I was young. Information shared in the discussion forums indicated 43,000 participants initially signed up for the class.
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Imagine my delight in communicating with students from Mongolia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Ukraine, just to name a few, who all shared a similar interest in writing.

I gained a profound appreciation for my native tongue. For a large majority of the students, English was a second language. Having only taken Latin in high school, all of which I have since forgotten, I couldn’t imagine trying to achieve success in a challenging course written in another language. I admired and learned a great deal of humility from my fellow writers across the world. I also hope to take a second language as soon as the class becomes available.

One of the first expectations of the course was to record the weekly writing assignments in a blog, such as WordPress http://wordpress.com. My knowledge of this blog site, as limited as it is, helped me immensely and the weekly assignments gave me new ideas for my posts. What a win-win situation and I even gained quite a few new followers.

Yes, I can honestly proclaim, computers rock. Getting and giving immediate feedback is better than snail mail, especially when you are taking a five week course, but there is still something endearing about finding a handwritten letter in my mailbox from time to time.

Preserving the Written Word


There are many benefits to having writing as a hobby, especially if the tools used are pen and paper. DSCN0788

Letting ink flow on unblemished, pre lined paper is an inexpensive opportunity to relieve stress, release unspoken emotions, provide entertainment and possibly fulfill a life-long dream, like publishing a book. Divulging one’s deepest fears, childhood memories or built-up resentments in private could save a person many dollars and hours in treatment. Besides, even if carrying years of unnecessary baggage buried deep inside doesn’t apply, perhaps a humorous antidote will emerge, providing a good laugh when needed.

In addition, scripting your thoughts can be done any time day or night. No reservations are necessary and inclement weather does not prohibit participation, in fact, it can provide a perfect setting, such as It was a dark and stormy night. Some of my favorite poetry spilled forth while sitting on a sandy beach in Maui while waiting for my daughter to get off from work.
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Whether it is five minutes or five hours, having two simple items within reach have made me feel I wasn’t wasting time while sitting and staring at four walls in a doctor’s office or waiting for the dryer to finish the cool down cycle.

While many people enjoy hobbies that require physical stamina, I’m sure there must be some calories burned during the challenge of writing. Why else would they call it an exercise? Of course, taking long walks provides me with loads of inspiration and sometimes I carry a small notebook or voice recorder to remind me of what it was – not that my memory is slipping or anything like that.

Yet, my strongest reason for writing with my trusty ballpoint and spiral notebook is to preserve the art of the written word. While I must confess that I have long used a laptop to record my stories and novels, I continue to scribble my first thoughts on a yellow pad or record them in a journal, DSCN0792which I keep close at hand at all times just in case a treasured thought floats by and justifies the effort.

One thing for sure, even though writing a thoughtful poem or interesting article may have slipped my mind over the years, I recognize my own handwriting and I know that I composed something that was worth committing to paper. It’s fun and satisfying to see how I’ve grown as a writer and a person. Life’s challenges have changed dramatically over the years, and so has my reaction to them.

So to all of the people who have not tried writing with good old fashioned pen and paper, I recommend turning off the television, silencing the phone, grabbing the nearest ink pen and blank piece of paper, and get writing. Who knows where it will take you! Give it a try and let me know if it feels as good to you as it does to me.

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The Mighty Mississippi

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The strength of any river demands respect. I watch as mankind tries to control the mighty Mississippi by building levees and constructing enormous dams yet when Mother Nature rebels to those restraints, she demonstrates who controls the river’s destiny. Each spring, the residents of Missouri wait patiently for the rains to subside. The rising waters … Continue reading

Lightening Bolts and Laughter


I posted this true story long when I first began blogging. The memory makes me laugh every time I revisit it. I think it’s worth reposting for a few more laughs.

My brother is gifted with a quick wit and great sense of humor. He also can deliver a story or joke with the perfect amount of flair to evoke laughter by nearly anyone who listens.

Rob teasingly nicknamed me Saint Diane. He suggests that I have a direct line to God. I’m not sure how that came about, but on one occasion, he felt he had confirmed his belief.

My husband and I were riding with my brother and his wife on our way to Branson, Missouri, one of our favorite vacation spots. We were near Rolla, Missouri and Rob reminisced about being pulled over by a State Highway Patrol on the same stretch of highway while on his way to his honeymoon destination nearly 40 years earlier.

Rob bragged that he was able to avoid a speeding ticket by pleading with the officer and telling a “little white lie” about enrolling in the police academy upon his return from his honeymoon. The kind-hearted office let his go with a warning and his best wishes.

After listening to his embellished story, my husband, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, sarcastically inquired, “Now haven’t you felt terrible about that lie all these years?”

Rob chuckled and responded with strong exaggeration, “Oh, it has always weighed heavy on my mind!” They both laughed heartily.

Sitting in the back seat, I pointed my finger toward my brother and said, “Put the lightning up there God.”

No more than five seconds had passed when my husband leaned forward and looked up toward a low flying plane that passed over the van in which we were riding.

“Did you see that?” My husband’s question was nearly drowned out by the sound of sirens closing in behind us.

Rob looked at the speedometer and realized he had been speeding. Then he glared at me in the rearview mirror and growled as he pulled to the shoulder of the highway, “Why did you have to get Him involved?”

The sharply dressed Patrolman approached and as expected, announced that my brother had been exceeding the speed limit. Rob dug out his license and registration as the officer bent his head down to view the other passengers in the vehicle. My sister-in-law and I were trying to contain the laughter that threatened to escape our mouths.

“Could you give me a break since I’m from out of town?”

The officer shook his head no and pointed toward the sky. “Sorry, but when the guy up there gets you, there is no getting out of it.”

An explosion of laughter came from the back seat. If God did have anything to do with it, He certainly has a sense of humor, too.

Rob didn’t share in our laughter until some years later when the pain of paying the ticket faded a little. I’ve been banned from throwing any more lightning bolts in his direction.

Fireflies and Starlit Skies


Clubhouse
Dozens of flickering fireflies dance merrily among the fragrant cedar trees. The only other visible light comes from the millions of twinkling stars that embellish the midnight skies above me. I can feel the damp fog creep silently into the valley as I listen to the steady hum of the visiting locust and the distant whippoorwills. I drift off into a gentle slumber, dreaming peacefully until a bird’s delightful warble echoes through the woods and greets me at the break of dawn. The enticing smell of bacon drifts in from the nearby kitchen and I open my sleepy eyes. My grandmother stands near the stove, humming and smiling as she turns each strip once it is perfectly crisp. I watch her in awe and wonder if I will ever master the skills necessary to follow in her footsteps. Full of energy and eager to help, I change my clothes quickly and join her near the sink. She instructs me on the proper placement of the knives, forks and spoons as I set the table for breakfast. With two hands, I carry a towering plate of pancakes to the table as my grandmother carries the dish of bacon and sets it down. I run to the refrigerator and grab the maple syrup and creamy butter before the family is called for breakfast. I press my fingers together tightly close my eyes as I thank God for the wonderful day.

So what childhood memories fill your mind when spring turns to summer? I’d love to know.

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Stick a fork in it?

This gallery contains 4 photos.


My Galileo thermometer lets me know when the temperature changes. The oven timer suggests when the roast should be removed for the perfect doneness. Even the gas gauge warns me when I’ve exceeded my mileage. The story’s been written for more than a year. Four avid reader’s have read it and provided critique. It currently … Continue reading