I Must Have Blinked


I remember a time when I enjoyed checking the mailbox for an unexpected card or letter from a friend. No one writes letters anymore. DSCN0788Cards are sent electronically through Facebook or email. The only things that appears in my mailbox are bills and store adds.

There was a time when you didn’t need to let the recorder pick up phone calls because every one of them was important. Now I’m forced to sign up for the  “No Call” list to avoid solicitors who interrupted every evening meal. While that helped for a while to reduce some unwanted calls, the intrusions returned, especially as I neared the blessed age of Medicare eligibility.

The changes to social media fill me with joy and sorrow. I miss the personal warmth of a hand-written letter or a phone call from a friend who just wants to chat. Still, the instant gratification of finding needed information with the click of my keyboard makes life easier, especially for a writer.

If you can relate to this short story, please hit the like button or leave me a message with your own thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

I Must Have Blinked

 

Dark clouds and Monday blues. Just the excuse I need to avoid starting painting woodwork. Blue masking tape’s been in place for months, yet the paint’s lid remains sealed. Procrastinator? Yes.

The phone rings. I check the clock. Right on time. The recorder picks up. Same message. Karen Adams says she can help me, but I ignore her offer. Instead, I grab a dust cloth and move from curio cabinet to coffee table searching for a distraction. A photo album, covered in a fine layer of dust, calls to me and I settle down on the couch.

The miniscule date on the photo reveals May 1957. We’re at the zoo. One brother on each side, pudgy little girl in the middle holding a wicker picnic basket. I glance at the numerous snapshots with the scalloped edges and close my eyes. My grandmother’s holding the Brownie box camera and urging us to smile. The corners of my lips curve up. Happens every time.

The next page moves me forward a decade. Mom, dad, three brothers and a sister on the steps of my grandparent’s front porch. I’m wearing a black and white taffeta dress. Easter service, dressed in our best. Happy family, eager to hunt eggs and snitch a few jelly beans before chicken dinner. It must be 1964 because my little brother looks about 4 years old. He’s still alive, happy and full of life.

I flip the page to see more. It’s empty. Discolored photo sleeves void of any clue another brother and sister joined the family. No trips to the zoo, no graduation pictures, no proms, no hint that life continued after the death of a child. Cancer does ugly things to families.

The gloomy day needs no support, so I close the book and select another album. The phone interrupts my thoughts. I check the clock. Right on schedule. This time it’s Susan, her offer similar to Karen’s. “Call me back at 1-800-555-1234.” The calls are not welcomed. They’ve become irritating. “Mind your own business” I chastise to no one.

I refocus and am transported to another life, one with a husband and daughter. A snapshot of them fishing near a crystal clear lake. Happy family outings. Smiles without guilt for being alive. Pages filled with tree, flowers, mountains and rivers, family and friends. Years of happiness. I feel my mood elevating, just as the sun breaks through dark clouds.

I close the album and place it on top of the one from our twenty-fifth anniversary. Perhaps there will be a 50th someday. I walk past the recorder and hit the delete button. The huge, undisturbed mound of pamphlets awaits my attention. Medicare decisions must be made, but not today, I have a few more weeks before the 65. I shake my head and wonder how that day arrived so soon. I must have blinked.

 

The Finishing Touch


This is one of my favorite fiction short stories I’ve written. It features our grand dog as a hero. I hope you enjoy it.

The Finishing Touch

LaptopComputer Finally, I’m going to finish my novel. The thought danced in my head as I packed the last few items in a suitcase. The tattered manuscript, with all its scribbled edges and sticky notes, was already stuffed in a padded pouch with my laptop. Food for a week, essential chocolate and wine stash included, were secured in the oversized cooler. The plan was simple. No television, no internet access, no interruptions. Just me and the computer. Oh, and one sixty-five pound grand dog, Hammie.

Convincing my husband that I could survive alone for a few days in our daughter’s summer home in Missouri at the Lake of the Ozarks required a plan of action. I memorized the exact procedure for turning on and off the water source and for operating the heating unit. Short of using flash cards, I demonstrated on paper that I could recognize and eliminate (or avoid) venomous snakes and spiders. Emergency phone numbers were entered into my speed dial and I promised to call him every evening reassuring him I hadn’t been murdered by a stranger lurking in the woods. At first I rejected his insistence that I take our daughter’s black lab with me. An unspoken sense of insecurity made me agree.hammyA

I appreciated his concerns and knew he would worry until I returned, but my desire to accomplish a task started years earlier pressed me forward. “Our forty-four years of marriage have been a blessing,” I reasoned with my spouse, “but a week of independence to complete my first novel is a necessity.” He didn’t share my passion for writing, but he respected it.
Splashes of crimson dappled the nearly bare hills, the result of nibbling cold fronts that visited the area the past few weeks. I made a brief pit stop in Kingdom City to stretch my legs and empty my bladder. Of course my four-legged friend needed to do the same. As he stopped and sniffed every few feet, I laughed, remembering my daughter’s warning that he’d want to check his “pee mail” too.

Back on the road, I sang along with Willie Nelson as he strummed his guitar to On The Road Again. Hammie stared out the window. I swear he shook his head as if to remind me I can’t carry a note. Too bad. My car, my rules. Soon, the billboards boasted the many venues near Bagnell Dam, my exit. The sparsely populated countryside reminded me of cherished excursions in my grandpa’s ‘57 Ford Fairlane. The blacktop road twisted and turned for the next twenty minutes. I slowed to a crawl at the last turn where the tree covered road narrowed to one lane. At the crest of a hill, I made a sharp left onto the graveled driveway where the red wood A-frame, greeted me.

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I turned off the engine and set the parking brake. Leaves blanketed the ground all the way down the steep hill to the water’s edge. No cars or neighbors were visible at the other few cabins that shared the remote cove. “Looks like we got the place to ourselves, Hammie.” His tail wagged approval as I attached his leash and helped him leap from the car. He tugged hard, ready to romp. “You can’t run free until I set up the wireless fence. Sorry buddy. With the door key in one hand and the lead in the other, I unlocked the door and entered my sanctuary.

First order of business was kicking up the heat. I pulled up the shades on the dozen windows that enclosed the Florida room to allow sun to filter in. “You’ll have to wait inside while I unpack the car.” Hammie whined and showed me his best pitiful look. “Save the guilt. It doesn’t work on me, remember?” As if he understood my announcement, he sauntered into the sun room.

Three trips to the car finished the task and I decided it was time for a break for both of us. I filled Hammie’s bowl with water and tucked a dog treat in my pocket, a bribe in case it was needed later to get him back inside. After flipping the switch on the wireless contraption, I picked up the second collar and slipped it in place. Long ago I resolved that I’d never fully understand how the machine knew how far a ninety-foot circumference was and how it could relate it to an animal. “Time to breathe in a little of this country air, buddy.” Hammie’s tail wag and pitiful moan as he nudged his nose on the door handle summed it up perfectly. I grabbed a bottle of water before heading to the deck.

The lake’s water near the dock was low and still, stirring only when an acorn dropped from a nearby tree where a squirrel packed away its final stash for the winter. Hints of late afternoon sun filtered through the towering oaks that still clenched some of their vegetation, perhaps as a cloak in anticipation of the deep cold inching closer by the hour. Leaves rustled beneath the elevated cabin as Hammie explored within his allotted space. I leaned on the railing and listened to the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker interrupted, or perhaps accompanied by, the chirp of a cardinal warning others that company had arrived.

The temperature dipped quickly as the sun slowly disappeared. “Think it’s time to go in Ham.” A flash of the biscuit brought him running. Two crunches and the treat disappeared. “How about dinner? You getting hungry? Me too.”

After we ate, I closed all the shades and headed to the bedroom to read for a while. Hammie joined me, circling around and plopping down, then pressing his back into my side. I smiled and stroked his shiny coat. With the added warmth and enhanced sense of security, I sent a silent “thank you” to my husband.

###

We settled into a routine over the next few days with the majority of time devoted to my novel. Whenever Hammie wasn’t exploring the enticing animal scents in his designated circle, he curled up at my side with his backend toward me to show his true feelings. His deep sighs made me laugh. I guessed even dogs get bored with my writing.

So far, my plan had come together with only minor interruptions. The final chapter neared completion, yet I was distracted by something. I put the laptop in sleep mode and stood up. Perhaps the tedious attention required to complete the edits or maybe the isolation from human contact was taking its toll, but the continuous hammering by a visiting woodpecker wore on my nerves. I took my cell phone and Hammie onto the deck and searched near the roof for the enemy. I located his head pounding on the side of the cabin. A Pileated Woodpecker, one not often seen back home. My irritation turned to awe.

The sharp red crest and white underwing color of the crow-sized bird deserved to be captured, at least on my phone so I could show hubby upon my return. I needed to get the best angle. “What do you think Ham?” I swear he shook his head no. Ignoring his warning, I contemplated my move. Common sense stepped aside for the risk-taker I had become and I pushed the wooden lawn chair close to the edge of the deck. With the phone in my pocket, I worked my way higher, placing one foot on the top of the chair and the other on the hand railing, steadying myself by gripping the side of the cabin with both hands.
Perfect, I thought, as I focused in on the knocker. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on how to balance myself with both hands working the phone’s camera. I tapped the screen, pleased with the result for a nanosecond, until my foot slipped off the railing. My head crashed against the redwood railing, sending stars and instant pain. I plummeted down the fifteen foot drop to the ground, landing on my already injured skull. I screamed as unbearable pain split my skull and sent me into a blackened state.

###

“Honey. Honey, please wake up.”
The whisper of the faded plea stirred in a distant corner of my mind. The pain. Oh, the pain. Why so much pain? I struggled to raise my hand to message my temple, but something weighed my arm down.

“Babe, I’m here.”

I struggled to open my eyes, feeling caught between stages as if coming out of a dream. Where am I? Who’s calling me? As the fog in my brain dissipated, the stabbing leg pain intensified, then my arm joined forces with the excruciating headache. I twisted and how could turned trying to escape the torture.

“Honey, I’ll get the nurse. Hold on.”

The voice traveled closer then faded as I sensed the release of warmth from my hand. Something heavy warmed my left leg. Think, I urged myself. Flashes of memory interrupted the agonizing battle inside my body. Footsteps, rushing around the room, unfamiliar voices shouting commands to each other.
“I thought we’d lost you.” The voice that called me honey choked.

Think harder. People tugging on an arm, tape ripping, alarms. I hear alarms. I’ve heard those before, many times, but where? “Nooo!” This time I heard my own shout as the voices faded away, my futile attempts to stop the drugs from sending me back to the dark place.

###

Six weeks later, with my discharge papers signed, hubby wheeled me to the car. A metal contraption kept my neck in place while my left leg and right arm had progressed to temporary casts. My eyes grew moist as I neared the car. My daughter smiled from behind the wheel. Hammie anxiously bounced up and down in the back seat. An unexpected and welcomed sight.

My husband helped me make the painful transition from chair to car, and then settled into a back seat driver position. The dog wiggled and squirmed until he managed to gently place his nose on my shoulder, the rest of him pressed in the gap between the seats.

“I thought you might like a visit from your buddy. He visited you a few times while you were in the medically induced coma.”

“I felt his heavy body snug against mine, but I thought it was my imagination.” I stroked his furry head in appreciation. My recollection of the accident was limited to memories before the fall. Some things continued to puzzle me, like how my husband got the call after I fell. I glanced at him and started to ask again, but not wanting to test his already frayed patience. He read my thoughts and shook his head.

“Look, I’ve told you everything I know. You’re phone flew out of your hand when you fell and somehow it dialed me. I heard the screams and the continuous bark and knew something bad had happened, so I called the emergency number you left with me.”

Hammie’s eyes met mine and I studied his face for the answer and nodded. “You were right. I shouldn’t have tried it. But how did the phone dial itself?”

The black lab’s lip curled upward.

“That’s his “Elvis” smirk.” My daughter’s laughter filled the air.
“Guess it will be his little secret.” But silently I knew.

My husband’s hand extended toward me, a grin on his face as he handed me the phone. “Great picture of the woodpecker.”

Recovering From A Laptop Injury


It happened in Chicago on a cold November day.  Perhaps I was distracted by the snow falling or worried about getting to the train station on time.  It happened so fast, there was no time to avoid the crash.  The severity of the injuries did not surface until I was back in Missouri

The three day trip had been a success.  Locked away in a hotel room, diligently working on the final edits of my manuscript, I boasted to my friend that the changes would be finished by the end of November.  It had been a work-in-progress for three years and my goal to publish my first novel would be accomplished soon.

Secure in the warmth of my home, I turned on my laptop and waited patiently for Windows to load so that I could admire the progress made in recent months.  I waited and waited, and waited some more.  Perhaps if I turned it off and tried again. Nothing.  “Noooooooo!”

Images of the suitcase and travel bag tipping over before my departure flashed in my mind.  The unfortunate sound of the bag crashing to the floor echoed like a cry for help in a forsaken canyon.  I look at the blank screen and cover my mouth, stifling another moan.  The small flash drive, overlooked when I packed for my trip, snickered at me from the shelf nearby. Yes, it did.  It snickered as it taunted me, “You fool.  You fool.”

I rushed my beloved to the nearest emergency room and waited anxiously as the patient was examined.  The technician delivered the news.  The injury was not fatal, but the prognosis was not good.  It was a brain injury.  While it could be repaired, all memory of the last four years would be erased.  The black box would not longer recognize me nor all the hours we spent together.

The news sent me into a dark hole.  Devastated, depressed, hopeless.  For two months my fingers have been idle and my sole mate stashed away in the travel bag in a dark corner of a room, waiting for me to make a move.  Week after week, my husband passed me adds as a form of relief.  I tossed them aside.

I have considered my options.  Show support for my loyal friend and pay for a new engine, hoping that nothing else fails.  Trade it in for a newer model.  The decision pains me.  One side of my brain is enticed by the shiny new models that chant “Savvy touch screens, faster speeds, wealth of memory.  Try it, you’ll love it.” The other side screams back.  “Think about the cost,” The software’s in your drawer.  It can be reinstalled.  You recognize it; you’re familiar with it.  You don’t like change anyway.”

My tears have dried.  My mourning has turned into boredom.  My disappointment in myself for not securing my work has formed new resolutions.  So what is holding me back?  Fear.  What if I can’t find the words?  What if I can’t get the router and printer to recognize my companion?  What if I fail as a writer? What if no one cares if I ever write again?

I know the answer to the last one.  I must write.  As steady as the blood that runs through my veins, the urge to write beckons me.  I hear my lonesome pen call my name.  I caress it in my hand and then press it to the yellow pad of paper.  Words spill forth filling the once empty lines and my first post in many months comes to life.  Pen to paper, post to blog, short story to novel.  One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.  The journey continues.

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.

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.
world-map[1]
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.

What’s your quest?


What’s the quest that drove you to blog?

mm_wine_bottles_4x4[1]

I drained the last of my second bottle of cabernet into my wine glass, took a deep breath and clicked on the Publish immediately prompt on my first post twelve months ago. https://authordianemhow.com/2012/03/09/what-now/#like-7
It took every ounce of that liquid encouragement to jump into the unfamiliar blogging world. The yellow paper that sat next to my laptop reminded me of why I should take the plunge.

Here is what it said.
1. Sixty is not too old to learn something new.
2. Twenty-four x seven is too much togetherness for two retirees.
3. Either throw the journals out or do something with them.
4. With thousands of ears out there, surely someone will hear me.
5. Why not?

Here’s what I know today.
1. Sixty-one isn’t too old either. Widgets still elude me, but I’ve learned to add media, change my theme and was Freshly Pressed once. https://authordianemhow.com/2013/01/24/rock-paper-laptop/#like-273
2. Twenty-four x seven is still too much togetherness for two retirees.
3. Some of my journals are worth re-reading and sharing.
4. I’m not alone. The positive affirmation I’ve received gives me encouragement. I’m down to two glasses of wine.
5. Why the heck not!

So what is your story? What passion makes you tap away at the keyboard till early morn?

The Disciplined Writer


A great writer shows discipline; she adheres to a plan
She’s seldom distracted by the presence of man
She embarks on a mission with an outline in hand
Ignoring the dishes, the mop and dust pan
Her coffee gets cold while she’s pecking away
Till wee hours of the morning at her laptop she’ll stay
I think she’s fictitious, this goddess of pens
She exists in the mind of imaginary friends
Too many distractions that get in the way
Too many expectations in the course of a day
Like Smartphones and Ipads, tv and much more
The children and shopping and knocks on the door
And even at night when the rest are in beds
Temptations invade us and dance in our heads
There’s red wine, dark chocolate, tidbits of cheese
Sudukos and novels, guilty pleasures to seize
Procrastination some call it; excuses others say
But a writer who avoids them? I don’t believe it. No Way
by dianemhow