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.

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.

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

Four Legged Friends – From Fear to Fondness


I’ve often heard the phrase A dog is man’s best friend. I am sure that is true for most, but for me, the unexpected appearance of a canine can send me into an immediate panic attack. A neighbor’s ferocious boxer probably was at the core of my fear. Unlike me, my daughter never met a dog she didn’t love. If something happened to Lassie http://www.lassie.com/ during an afternoon show, she cried for nearly 24 hours until the next episode aired, when she could be reassured that she was alive and well.

I once tolerated a dog named Henry that my daughter toted everywhere as a child. Heck, I even wrote stories about his adventures. There was the time his arm was crudely torn off in a kidnapping attempt. Another time, he was rescued from drowning in a swimming pool. Henry traveled with us and was known to play hide and seek in the hotel lobby or restaurant on numerous occasions. Heck, I nearly faced abandonment charges when he decided to take a nap in a baby crib at a Top Value Stamp store. The charges were dropped after I drove another 80 mile roundtrip to retrieve him.

Henry and Henrietta
When Henry met Henrietta, my daughter’s interest seemed to wane. The pair took up residence on her their homemade sleeping bags and became sedentary. By then my daughter was old enough to know the difference between a stuffed animal and a live dog and she frequently begged for the latter. My husband and I agreed to a compromise when a neighbor entrusted to us a funny looking creature that almost looked like a dog, a Peruvian guinea pig http://www.guinea-pig-paradise.com/guinea-pig-breeds.html.

My daughter named him Opie and he was the first of many. His most fierce bite was a nibble and he didn’t require much maintenance. In fact, most of his time was spent in solitary confinement, inside a large cage.
patches_puddlesMuffy, Buffy, Harley, Puddles and Patches followed.

Two small water turtles also called our house home for a while until they were stolen from the swimming pool in the side yard. With my bawling daughter in hand, I visited our neighbor and suggested that I was pretty sure her son was the thief. A short time later, she returned the two miniature pets with an apology. My daughter turned to her dad and asked they could take them to the river and release them to their natural habitat. It was a pretty mature decision for a young child.

I always felt guilty that we did not afford our daughter the pleasures of a four-legged best friend, but nearly any unexpected sound that resembles a dog set off an alarm in my head that released enough adrenalin to cause a panic reaction. Even as a child my daughter seemed to understand and she recognized my problem was not imaginary. As she grew older, she found my condition humerous at times.

For instance, I was browsing through a general store with my, then, teenage daughter. In another isle, she found a wooden duck with a long handle on it and rubber flappers on the wheels that made a slapping noise when it was pushed. kinderkram-duck-wooden-push-toy[1] The sound effect was much like that of paws trotting and caused me to jump and squeal, like a fool. When I realized the toy would not harm me, I looked around the room where a dozen people were bent over with laughter.

Unless a dog was under lock and key, I did not enter a house. I would sit in a car rather than take a chance, no matter how many times I was assured He wouldn’t hurt a flea. Most of my friends and family accommodated my fear. However, I won’t forget the time I took my nieces and nephews back to their house after an overnight stay. I was greeted by their full grown German Shepherd as she stood on his hind legs and planted her huge paws on my shoulders. I can still see the look of confusion in his eyes when I screamed bloody murder.

I’m ashamed to admit that I even offered up my daughter to an aggressive Doberman Pincher when he charged out from a nearby garage and threatened to eat me alive. I grabbed my daughter by the shoulders and placed her between me and the beast, jumping up and down and yelling to the top of my lungs. She bravely confronted the aggressor while commanding me to shut up and stand still. The owner stood nearby laughing hysterically. What can I say? Desperate people do desperate things.

The opportunity to redeem myself came when a friend offered a black Labrador puppy to my husband. My husband contacted our daughter, who lived nearby, and asked if she was interested. She eagerly accepted the offer and a few weeks later, Hammie became part of the family. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I knew it was time for me to tackle my problem because I didn’t want my daughter to have to choose between me or the dog. I embraced the chance to bond with Hammie while he was small enough to be loveable. My husband and daughter were pleased to see the change and even caught me kissing his little head once.

Hammie has stayed overnight at our house often and I’ve even attempted to walk him on my own. Unfortunately, he flunked out of obedience school. The word stay means nothing to him and he now weighs 60 pounds. At the risk of landing face-first on the asphalt when he eyes a squirrel or rabbit and takes off, I usually hand over the leash to my husband and walk by his side. He’d much prefer my husband anyway.
hammyA

Being an only child (yes, I’m talking about the dog), Hammie is spoiled and enjoys being the center of attention. He loves to explore every nook and cranny of our home with one limitation. He is terrified of the plastic gate that is used to contain him to an area. It’s not a bad thing sometimes. He doesn’t try to push it down or escape. In fact, he will not pass over the gate even if it falls down. He demonstrated his limitation when I fell down the stairs and he rushed to my rescue. Forced with the decision to cross the fallen gate and come to my aid or retreat to edge of the stairs and whimper sadly on my behalf, he chose the latter.

Hammie’s role as king of the house has been challenged during the past six weeks with the arrival of Herkie, a 47 pound Basset Hound. herki_bed My daughter offered to care for her until she completes her required stay before flying to Hawaii to be reunited with her owners. Herkie adjusted quickly to her new surroundings. She confidently plopped herself down on Hammie’s bed and took a nap. The first night, Hammie was beside himself trying to understand the change. He laid at the end of the bed and stared at Herkie most of the night. Overall, they get along fairly well, but Hammie still seems a bit miffed about the arrangement.

My daughter and her boyfriend took the dogs to a lake house over the weekend. They needed to leave the house for a while and put both dogs in an upstairs bedroom with the plastic gate across the entrance to the room to keep them confined. Upon return, they found Herkie milling around downstairs while Hammie sat whining on the other side of the flattened gate upstairs in the bedroom. Even with the temptation to join his buddy roaming freely about the house, Hammie feared the wrath of the plastic object. (I can relate. Fear is fear!)

An internal alarm still goes off occasionally when a dog approaches unexpectedly, but my reactions are not quite as traumatic as they once were. When I met Herkie for the first time, I reached out my hand to pet her and she anxiously jumped to greet me so I withdrew my offer. No problem for Herkie, she just rolled over on her back and begged for a belly rub, for which I obliged. I’m making progress. Actually, I’ve replaced fear with fondness – at least that’s what I’m working toward.

How about you? Do you have a fear you’re working to overcome?

Bountiful Baskets


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It’s funny how a thought sticks in your mind until it finds its way into a post. This weekend, my daughter and I made baskets while at Girl Scout Camp Tuckaho http://www.girlscoutsem.org/Programs/Camp/Camp-Tuckaho.aspx. We’ve both been involved in Girl Scouts since 1977 and as a treat, each year about nearly 100 adult volunteers from two districts come together to share talents, laughter and treasured memories with one another.

One of the many baskets displayed by our instructor, Pat Vogel, http://www.bittersweetbasketsandsupply.com/ was titled Bountiful Basket and it made its way into our conversations enough times that it settled in my brain. I returned home late Sunday evening and dragged myself into bed. (Hey, weaving baskets for hours on end and walking across icy fields to get from lodge to lodge was hard work!) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the laundry basket bursting at the seems with clothes that needed washing. I smiled and decided to wait until morning to tackle that chore.

My thoughts continued to turn to bountiful baskets as I rested my still tender fingers against my disgustingly bloated stomach. Seemed I overfilled the bread basket that occupies the area where I used to have a waist. One thing for sure, we always eat well while at any Girl Scout function; it goes hand to hand, or maybe I should say mouth, with a bunch of women and fresh country air.

As I tried to fall asleep, I realized that although my body was worn, my mind was traveling at a high rate of speed. It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in front of my laptop. Why? I had recevied the most bountiful blessing on Friday when my last post, Rock, Paper, Laptop, was Freshly Pressed. It was the first time for me and I was overwhelmed by the response. By the time I returned on Sunday, more than 1500 fellow bloggers had viewed my post and many of them took the time to hit the “like” button and/or leave a comment. What an extraordinary event!

To all those who took the time to read my post, write a comment, put a smile on my face with the click of button, or follow my blog, thank you, thank you, thank you! I hope all of you have bountiful baskets filled with great things this week.

Rock, Paper, Laptop


hieroglyphicsYellow PadsLaptopComputer

Ancient Egyptian writers depended upon chisels and stone as the medium for their hieroglyphics. I’m sure many of them embraced the advances in technology that introduced other resources for their passions. Yet, I imagine there were some who struggled to move forward gleefully.

There was a time when pads of yellow paper graced nearly every table top of our home, patiently waiting for any random thoughts of gibberish to find its way onto a meticulously clean surface. With my companions, a smooth writing pen and lined paper, I delight in sitting cross-legged on my couch or out on the deck, scribbling away with the security of knowing I can rip off a page, crumble it and have a clean slate ready for my next attempt.

Much like reminiscing through old photographs, I can pick up a journal or notebook stuffed with pages of deep thoughts, easily revisiting my attempts to imitate Robert Frost http://www.poemhunter.com/robert-frost/ or Erma Bombeck http://www.ermamuseum.org/home.asp. Sometimes, the words I scripted are buried so deep in the recesses of my mind I don’t recognize the words, yet I always know they are mine because of the handwriting.

It isn’t that I don’t know the capabilities of the black box that had been assigned its own room in the house for many years. My job required extensive knowledge of numerous, ever-changing, complex programs, including the infamous MS Word. Perhaps the challenges forced upon me daily formed a callous on my brain that makes it too painful to imagine drafting my work on my computer.

Seldom did I take the time to store my creations electronically. The few that made it through the final stages of editing onto the complex contraption were lost when the hardware failed. (Thank goodness for my archaic backups!) The thought of composing something while sitting at the keyboard was as foreign the thought of writing a romance novel.

My daughter frequently reminded me of the century we now live in and the advances in technology that she believed would make my life easier, if only I would try something new. The way she rolled her eyes when I’d pick up a tablet and began writing reflected her frustration in my failure to listen. Bless her heart. Instead of nagging endlessly, she generously provided me with a laptop upon my retirement. “You can use it anywhere, mom. You’ll love it.”

So I tried sitting cross-legged on the sofa with the slim blue device balanced on my lap. That lasted about ten minutes before the phone rang and I had to untangle my legs from the wire to get across the room to the phone. What wires you say? The one attached to the mouse of course. Yes, I know others may use the one built into their machine, but using the touch pad doesn’t work for me because I keep resting my thumbs as I ponder my next line. If you have never been gifted in this ability, let me describe what happens next. The perfect words you struggled for fifteen minutes to compose transform themselves into paragraphs and sentences for which they were not intended. The time it took to find and edit them is just long enough for the thought to pass and there you sit staring at the screen again. I fixed the problem by disabling the gizmo – ok, I had to have help with that too.

I often found myself reverting back to paper and pen. It wasn’t until I decided to write my first novel that I considered the time-consuming effort it would take to write a 50,000 word manuscript and then transpose it onto the computer. One day, after much deliberation, I relented and established a work zone in my dining room where I began typing and editing the dozens of pages I had written before coming to my senses.

I opened the French doors leading onto the deck and felt a delightful breeze drift in. The chirp of a nearby cardinal provided for an opportunity to procrastinate and it wasn’t long before I ventured out onto the deck with all tools in hand. My fairybook visions of spending the next few hours accomplishing great things dissipated in seconds. The gentle wind turned into a gust and blew my stacks of paper high into the sky. With arms flailing, I scrambled urgently to retrieve the papers in flight for fear of a neighbor stealing page 10 of a best seller.

Once I even tried taking my laptop on a daytrip to the river where my husband docked his boat. He often liked to visit for hours with a friend who lives there. What a great opportunity, I thought. I’ll be inspired as the river carries barges through the lock and dam. Surely a poem or some type of masterpiece was waiting to find its way into my laptop. I proudly headed to the lovely swing where I had often written in my small journal.

I shifted the mouse and pad from my leg to the bench of the swing. I tried numerous positions to no avail. I decided to remove the accessory and use the touchpad. Try as I might, I could not remember the sequence of steps my friend had shown me to reactivate the function. By the time I successfully retrieved the info from my wary brain, the battery died on the laptop. I bit my lower lip to keep from screaming and quietly closed the lid and stood up, dropping the mouse and pad at my feet. Anger turned into tears as I gathered all of the pieces and headed back to the car.

My frown turned into a smile when I opened the door and glanced down at the yellow pad and Cross pen that patiently waited for my attention. In one hand, I tossed the laptop on the seat and with the other, I embraced my faithful companions, hugging them close as I strolled back to the wooden swing and settled in for a lovely afternoon.

The transition from rock to paper to laptop has not been easy for some of us. Still, there are benefits to each. Had it not been for the stones that ancient Egyptians carved, much of history would have been lost. Yet hieroglyphics presented many challenges, especially in portability. Paper is readily available, portable and can be treasured for many years, yet it is fragile and fades in time. A laptop stores immense amounts of data, offers unlimited features that transform the written word into works of art, and advances nearly daily in new technology, but with the touch of a delete key, a year’s worth of work can be forever lost into space.

I’ve taken small steps to embrace the wonders of digital technology, but I doubt I will ever relinquish the comfort of paper and pen.

Can you relate?

Daily Post – Fight or Flight Black Cloud Theory Part II


Here’s the rest of my heart thumping weekend.

By my third cup of java, the August sun began to peek through the blinds.  The plan for the morning was outlined in my mind.  I would surprise my husband by mowing the lawn, then take Laura to her swim lessons at the Boys and Girls Club.  I waited until eight-thirty a.m. to drag the mower out from the shed.  It took a few attempts of priming the bulb and pulling the cord, but I was finally able to start the push mower.  I was quite proud of myself.

I had trimmed a mere twenty feet of grass before I found the discreet copper water line that was buried below the tall blades of grass.  In seconds, I thought I had been transported to Yellowstone National Park as I watched a magnificent geyser erupt in front of me.  I stood dumfounded, unable to move.  From shock to frantic, I tried to remember where the shutoff valve might be.  My husband had shown me the one in the house, but that would not help me outside.  I visualized the man poking his rod down into a hole each month as he read the meter and it dawned on me that it was below ground.  I looked around and spotted the deep, spider-filled opening which was barely visible through the overgrown weeds.

I dropped down to my knees, reached in and tried to find the handle.  There was nothing but webs.  The only way to reach the meter was to lay flat on the ground.  I sprawled out, face first, and reached my arm into the hole as far as I could, trying not to think about the crawling creatures that would soon attach themselves to my skin.  There was no handle.  I jumped to my feet and dashed inside to call for help.

“Bill, I need your help now!”  I shouted into the phone.

“Who is this?” Bill Kramer, the trailer court manager, replied.

I could have said it was the crazy, dumb blond from down the street, but instead I identified myself and gave a brief explanation of my crisis.  Bill agreed to come to my rescue.  When he arrived, he took one look at me and burst into laughter.  There I stood, saturated from head to toe with grass clippings clinging to most of my body.  He proceeded to take his wrench and stop Old Faithful as if it was another daily routine.  I thanked him, knowing I would never again be able to have a conversation with him that did not involve my humiliating call.

There was just enough time for a shower and change of clothes before taking Laura to her swim lessons.  An hour of watching her thrash about in the water with her friends would help me relax, I told myself optimistically.  I found a place on the stadium-type bench and tucked my daughter’s shoes and towel and my purse in the space underneath.

I offered a hand to the young mother who came up behind me as she struggled to unload a large diaper bag, purse, towel and an infant in a pumpkin seat.  We chatted a little about her newborn.  She related that she was stressed about the weather report and thunderheads she had seen building on the horizon.  I assured her we were safe inside the sturdy concrete building.

After a short while, she could no longer ignore her concerns and decided to get her daughter from the pool and leave.  I kept an eye on her sleeping baby as she dried off her daughter and gathered all her bags.  Once she had everything balanced over her shoulder or under an arm, she picked up the pumpkin seat and left.

About thirty minutes into the lesson, I reached down to get a piece of gum from my purse.  My hand grasped anxiously from side to side, but couldn’t feel anything that remotely resembled a purse.  I stood up and looked underneath the bench.  Laura’s shoes and a towel were the only things on the floor.  My purse, oh my God!  My purse is gone.

Panic sank in as I remembered my husband was out of town and no one else had keys to my car or house.  I dashed to the check-in desk seeking help.  My voice was quivering as I tried to get someone’s attention, but the staff was too distracted by the impending storm that blackened the skies overhead.

Just as I thought I would burst into tears, the young woman who had sat next to me came rushing through the door with my purse in hand.

“I’m so sorry!  I grabbed your purse when I left.  I didn’t realize until I got home that I had it.  I left the kids with my husband and hurried back as fast as I could.”

Overwhelmed with gratitude, I thanked her and headed back to the bench to once again get my blood pressure under control.  The moment my derriere hit the bench, a large clap of thunder shook the building and all the lights went out.  Fifty blood-curling renditions of “MOM!” were shouted from the pool.  A staff person tried to announce the emergency instructions, but could barely be heard above the shrill screams.  The only back up lights available were BIC cigarette lighters held by a few shaking hands.

One by one, the children were removed from the water and returned to their anxious parents.  With Laura by my side and my car keys securely in hand, we sat briefly waiting for the storm to pass.  The thought of going to the trailer and riding out the storm was ruled out.  I never felt safe there in bad weather even when my husband was there to calm my fears.  Instead, I thought it would be a good time to visit Mom in Florissant.

The skies cleared as Laura and I made the drive to Mom’s house.  Mom put on a fresh pot of coffee while Laura and my youngest sister watched television.  Mom and I retreated to the breezeway as I narrated a brief version of my nightmare weekend.  It was great to finally relax in a secure environment.  Of course, it was just a façade.

I took another sip of coffee and my eyes caught a glimpse of something outside. I studied the blacktop driveway.  It was parallel to the side street and could hold about four cars comfortably if you pulled in close, perpendicular to the fence.  Hadn’t the car been almost touching the fence?  An alarm was going off in my head.   My white Ford Pinto was inching slowly backwards toward the street.  I bolted from my chair, sending the coffee flying everywhere, and dashed down the dozen steps to the bottom landing.  I flung open the screen door and headed for the car.  I was berating myself all the way.  How could I have forgotten to put it in park?  Imagine my surprise when I whipped open the driver’s door and found my little girl scrunched down on the floor board of the passenger side!

Once again my heart felt like I had been in a marathon race.  Thank goodness the side street had little traffic and was relatively flat.   I was able to apply the break and stop the car before it made it into the street.  Laura knew she was in trouble, but I knew if I opened my mouth, she would get all the frustrations of the day.  Instead, I buckled her in the car seat and pushed the car back into its spot.  Mom was standing at the steps by then, so I asked her to keep an eye on Laura while I retrieved my purse and keys from upstairs.  I was going home to lock myself away for the rest of the day.

The ride home was uneventful, thank goodness.  As I unlocked the door to the trailer, I heard the phone ringing.  “How’s it going?” my husband asked on the other end.

“Just fine,” I lied.