Christmas Note #2: I hope you’ll this live recording of an older Greg Lake singing a familiar Christmas pop classic.
- Christmas music (slightlyrandomthoughts.wordpress.com)
Christmas Note #2: I hope you’ll this live recording of an older Greg Lake singing a familiar Christmas pop classic.
I am blessed to have more things to be thankful for than I deserve.
The Sprog (my daughter).
My 83-year-old mother who is still going strong.
The rest of my family.
A job I enjoy — two if you count writing, which still seems to be volunteer work at the moment.
Porter chocolate chunk ice cream at Great Lakes Brewing Company.
Today and every day, I wish all my readers similar blessings.
My father died eleven years ago, shortly before his seventy-sixth birthday. His death was caused by Alzheimer’s, as was his mother’s.
If you’re fortunate enough not to have witnessed the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient, you’re lucky. The disease robs the soul of your loved one – stealing it in tiny increments and leaving only a shell of the person you knew.
As the disease progressed, I would have sworn sometimes that I could see when Dad’s syanpses received the brain’s electrical charges. For a moment, he’d be there, and then that spark was snuffed out like the flame of a candle. As time passed, those moments grew fewer and fewer. Eventually there were no more.
During his final illness, I visited him in the hospital, though I don’t think he knew I was there. Bag of yarn at my side and crochet hook in hand, I’d sit next to his bed and listen to him breathe. It actually felt kind of peaceful, until I began to notice the pause between each deep slow breath and each long exhale. This was my father’s deathbed, I realized, and I was on deathwatch.
It was late when my stepmother called to tell me he was gone. All I could think was, At least wherever he is now, he’s all there.
I’ve been thinking about him because tomorrow would have been his eighty-seventh birthday. My daughter barely remembers him, though thankfully he was able to enjoy her early years. My own memories are beginning to fade, but here are a few that strike me as important in understanding the man he was.
He spent untold hours trying to teach me how to hit a softball, an endeavor that was doomed from the start. “Watch the ball, Kimmie,” he’d say before pitching the large white ball directly at the bat. I swear, if I’d just stood still, the ball would have hit the bat, but I never could. I finally gave up, but he never did.
Dad had a quirky sense of humor, but also a bit of a temper. When one of us kids did something wrong, we were never quite sure which would make an appearance. I recall once flipping my shoe into the air in a spurt of joie de vivre. To my horror, it flew through the window of our side door, leaving me to wait in terror for my father to get home so I could confess.
“Oh,” he said, “you were in a good mood so you kicked off your shoe and it went through the window?”
“Ye-es,” I stammered, then watched in amazement as his mouth quirked up, and he began to laugh.
Dad grew up in West Virginia, and I remember him telling me that their house burned down when he was young, leaving his family with only a blanket. However, though they were poor, Grandma was educated enough to have been a schoolteacher before she married. Whether she pushed him or whether he was really that smart, I don’t know, but Dad skipped two grades, landing in high school at the age of twelve.
A couple years later, he dropped out and joined the Navy, serving on a troop carrier in the South Pacific during World War II. He never spoke about the war, though he once told me he was glad they dropped the bomb because he would have been in the first wave in Japan. According to him, that would have meant certain death.
He ended up there anyway after the surrender, and in the Philippines and China too. Just seventeen, he was so skinny that we used his uniform as a Halloween costume when we were kids. (It’s now in the small museum at the Veteran’s Home in Sandusky, where he spent his last years.)
After the war, he returned home, not to West Virginia, but to Massillon, Ohio, where my grandparents had moved. He was graduated from Massillon Washington High School in 1947, then headed back to West Virginia for a quick three-year Bachelor’s Degree, courtesy of the GI bill at Glenville State College.
Dad drank a lot in college, once finishing a six-pack and dumping the bottles outside someone else’s window so he wouldn’t get in trouble. The window turned out to belong to one of the college football players who was then either expelled or kicked off the team.
When Dad told me this story, I asked if he ever admitted they were his beer bottles. He looked at me as if I were nuts and asked, “Are you kidding? The guy would have killed me!”
My father was opinionated, a trait I unfortunately inherited. In many ways, his point of view was traditional. Mine wasn’t, which meant we disagreed a lot. But we always got along, maybe because I never lied to him. Even when I knew he wasn’t going to like what I had to say, I said it anyway, and he respected that.
This kind of standing up for myself was a skill that didn’t come naturally. I learned it from my father, not because he encouraged me to do it, but because if I hadn’t, I’d have ended up living the life he chose for me, rather than my own.
One lesson I didn’t learn, at least until recently, was to understand that just because you are capable of doing something – say taking a certain career path or advancement – didn’t mean you should do it. Dad told me a long time ago that he’d been offered several promotions, which he refused because he was happy where he was.
Dad was not a perfect man, nor was he a perfect father. In truth, I’m not sure there such people exist. However, he was a good man and a loving father, and my siblings and I were blessed to have had him.
I’m cheating today by sharing this lovely photo instead of writing a post. This is our backyard, after last night’s snow, the first real fall of the year. Isn’t it lovely?
Last weekend, I went on a writing retreat. For those of you who are unsure what that means, I’ll tell you.
Dictionary.com (http://tinyurl.com/5ml53e) defines “retreat” this way:
1.the forced or strategic withdrawal of an army or an armed force before an enemy, or the withdrawing of a naval force from action.
2.the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion.
3.a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy: The library was his retreat.
4.an asylum, as for the insane.
5.a retirement or a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation.
A writing retreat normally fits into definitions two, three and five. However, our cabin neighbors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking ours was the type in definition number four.
Let’s just say not many Indian Guide dads are treated to the vision – or should that be spectacle? – of three middle-aged women dancing around the Guide’s bonfire (left deserted for only a moment). Should those dancers be accompanied by a fourth middle-aged woman beating time on a soup pot, well that just adds to the fun. Stir in an appreciative audience of eight other cowardly – or should that be sensible? – ladies, and you have a sight not often seen on the average father/son campout.
Yes, friends, there was wine involved. There was also much laughter and more food than any twelve people could possibly consume in a weekend, though we gave it our best shot.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Kym, but did anyone actually write? The answer is yes. But I wasn’t one of them.
Still, this retreat will spur me forward on both my current work in progress (WIP) and my writing career. This is partly because four of us spent Saturday afternoon reading and reviewing each other’s WIPs in an inaugural meeting of our critique group. By opening ourselves to this type of feedback, we can now revel in well-deserved praise while discovering previously unnoticed errors.
My crit buddies are so right. I do need to fix the point-of-view in that first scene, but thank God, they laughed in the right places.
And there was so much more. Watching Chris demonstrate the Yoga Warrior pose her dog must see before believing it’s safe to exit via the sliding door; learning – or, in my case, not – belly dancing moves from Nancy; and repeating after Renee as she taught us all how to say F— in Greek – these types of real-life experiences have a way of showing up in our books. One of us – who knows, maybe all of us – is bound to write a story that includes a neurotic dog who once ran through a screen and now requires a physical demonstration before he can believe the door is actually open.
Obviously, the most important part of writing is sitting down at our computer and working, or, as we like to call it, BICHOK (bum in chair, hands on keyboard). But writing also involves thinking about writing, talking about writing, and learning about writing – as we did in a Friday night session on polishing that first chapter. Furthermore, writers must occasionally break our daily routine, perhaps even shatter our comfort zones by dancing around a fire.
Friendships are born and deepened by these experiences. Knowledge is shared, creativity sparked, encouragement given. A writer’s retreat can do all of this, and if you manage to actually hit the keyboard, well, that’s even better.
P.S. Don’t worry, Renee. That Greek lesson is already forgotten.
P.P.S. Barb, I’ll pay good money for that video of our Saturday night dance.
Now, as promised, here’s how to make the best darned cottage pie in the world, or at least in Medina County, Ohio, my contribution to our Saturday evening feast.
(If you use ground lamb, it’s shepherd’s pie. I use ground turkey, so maybe I should call it Poulterer’s Pie.)
About 1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 large onion, chopped (I used leeks for ours because I had some.)
A cup or more frozen or canned peas (Frozen are better; use a lot if you really like peas, less if you don’t)
Chopped carrots (Fresh is better, frozen is okay; again amount can vary according to your taste. Are you sensing a theme in this recipe?)
I have also used zucchini, yellow squash, and parsnips for the vegetables.
Potatoes, peeled and chopped (I’m not even going to repeat myself except to say we like it with a lot of mashed potatoes so I use four or five, at least)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Milk for potato mashing
Butter for potato mashing
Grated cheddar cheese, also for potatoes
Salt and pepper (optional)
Instant mashed potatoes (for thickening, not for topping, unless, of course, you’re in a real hurry).
Sauté onion in oil. When soft, add meat and brown. While meat browns, peel, chop, and boil potatoes with garlic clove until soft enough to mash. Also, grate the cheese. When meat is brown, drain fat. Add vegetables and Worcestershire sauce (we like a lot, several tablespoons at least). Add enough water to keep the veggies and meat from burning, also salt and pepper if you like. Simmer until vegetables are soft, adding water as needed. While these simmer, mash potatoes with butter and milk. Mix cheese in potatoes (you can sprinkle on top, but it’s really tastier if it’s mixed in). Once the vegetables are tender, sprinkle in enough instant mashed potatoes to thicken to your liking, adding water as needed. Place mixture in casserole or baking dish. Spoon on mashed potatoes, sealing the edges to completely cover the mixture. Rough up the surface with a fork to form peaks. Bake at 375 until potatoes begin to brown (30 minutes or so).
Easily frozen, so make two and freeze one for another night.
Please note, the photo below is not one of my pies. They never hang around long enough for a picture. I chose this photograph because the caption made me laugh — seemed appropriate for a post about a retreat where some were writing erotica.
Rave: Duck, Duck, Banjo?: The Engineer and I Do Pittsburgh
Back in March, we were supposed to go to Mexico, maybe Costa Rica or Puerto Rico — one of those beach vacations — but before we knew it, it was summer, and tuition would soon be due, so The Engineer and I decided to downsize our getaway. Then we downsized again, and the trip became two days in Pittsburgh.
The National Aviary (http://www.aviary.org/) was great, with over 500 species of free flying birds. (If you visit, you might want to wear a hat.) I got to feed two pelicans and had a Fairy Bluebird eat a worm from my hand, which was fortunate since the worm was quite lively and kept trying to make a break for freedom.
The Pittsburgh Banjo Club (http://tinyurl.com/kypaa6s ) was delightful. They’re a mixed group, ranging in age from under twelve to well-past retirement age, and when they play, it’s obvious they’re having a great time. Directly in front of us was a player with the most ornate instrument I’ve ever seen, gold-plated with mother-of-pearl inlay and a riverboat scene on the back. He was one of several pickers who played completely by ear. Nary a sheet of music in sight! (Listen to them play on their website above.)
On the night we visited, about twenty Swiss men and women dropped by for the show. They were entertainers in their own right, in town for a yodeling performance. When the banjo club leader asked for a demonstration, three of the group bounded on stage and shared a song. I know yodeling seems, I don’t know, kind of old-school hokey, but their harmony was amazing, especially when the play-by-ear banjo players joined in to accompany them.
The Banjo Club has donated over $90,000 to Pittsburgh charities. They practice at the Elks Lodge every Wednesday from 8-11 pm. The Lodge opens their doors to the public on these nights, so it’s like a free concert. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh on a Wednesday night, I highly recommend you visit Elks Lodge #339.
On Thursday, we were going to do an open-top bus tour, but several people told us about the Ducky Tours. (http://www.justduckytours.com/) These are land/water tours of downtown in converted World War II amphibious vehicles. The Engineer and I are standing in front of one at the top of the page, and below is a photo of one arriving back at base. During the hour ride, tour leaders share information about the history of Pittsburgh as well as a flotilla of ducky jokes that just quacked me up (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself).
The second duck in our tour was this one, created by Florentijn Hofman for a world-wide tour. I guess it’s gone now, so we were lucky to see it when we did. (Go here for more info: http://florentijnhofman.nl/dev/project.php?id=104)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a getaway without a visit to a brewery or two. We chose Penn Brewery (mainly because we passed it on the way to our hotel) and the Church Brew Works because I thought a brewery in a deconsecrated church would be unique as well as beautiful. It was both as the photos below demonstrate. Visit if you can. (http://www.churchbrew.com/)
Pittsburgh reminds me of Cleveland; both have more culture than people expect from a blue-collar town, both are working on their second acts as cities, and each is surrounded by a lot of natural beauty. However, I could never live in Pitt. Those gorgeous mountains and rivers would ensure that I’d spend three-fourths my life completely disoriented and the other fourth stuck in traffic.
A Rave About Heroines and Life
In my family, the role of wild child was ably filled by my sister. From a young age, she not only got into fistfights with neighborhood boys, she was also the first to be kissed by one (or more).
I was the mild child. In first grade, when the boy next to me accidentally smashed my hand in his desk, I actually raised my un-smashed hand and waited to be called on before telling the teacher. I didn’t learn about kissing until later (much later), and even then it was from a book.
In high school, my sibling smoked under the football stadium bleachers.
I gulped watery hot chocolate huddled next to our parents on the metal seats above.
Wild child and mild child — we were so different that, though we were only two years apart in school, no one ever realized we were related. And in many ways, we continue to fill these positions as adults.
I remain the cautious one, though I now understand the value – even necessity — of stepping outside my comfort zone. Still, most the wildness in my life is the direct result of stupidity, naiveté or sheer unadulterated contrariness.
Unsurprisingly, the heroines in my book tend to be mild childs (“mild children” just doesn’t sound right). Smart, strong, wiseass mild childs, but mild childs nevertheless.
Does this make them happier? No. Does it make their lives any easier? No. Does whether you’re a wild child or a mild child have any effect at all on the way your life turns out? I say, for the most part, no.
The trick, I think — in fiction and in life — is to learn to like who you are and play to your strengths while occasionally challenging yourself to do something you’d rather not do.
What do you think? Were you a wild child or a mild child? What challenges have you faced as a result? (If you leave a comment with your answer, you might win a $10 gift card to Starbucks.)
In Wild Child, Molly O’Keefe has written a tale about Monica Appleby, a girl who is — as the title suggests — a wild child. I’m sure Monica’s past holds more hot kisses than hot chocolate, but like every mild child and wild child alive, she’s looking for happiness and love. I hope you’ll read the book to discover how she goes about finding both.
Now, onto the good stuff! Click the link below for your chance to win a $20 gift card to an eTailer of your choice, a preview copy of Wild Child or an ebook preview copy of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (a short story).
And keep on hopping for more chances to win more great prizes. Visit the rest of the blogs on this blog hop by clicking here: http://www.simply-linked.com/listwidget.aspx?l=1C3A1BE0-0152-4D1C-80C1-D885C7A2C7C8 Or click the cover of Molly’s book below for more info on the #WildChild Hop.
The hop continues through 29 October, so stop back for more fun. Who knows? I may manage to come up with a few more prizes to be awarded here on RWRR!
You might want to skip the ad, but this video is brilliant. Unquestionably a rave about reading (and readers).
Cancer Lesson #??: Cancer makes you paranoid.
More than two years have passed since my last chemo, and I’ve been praying for arthritis. Between prayers, I’ve practiced what to say to my family and tried to figure out how to get through another course of treatment.
You see, my elbow has been hurting for over a month now, and I was convinced my cancer had metasize metastaz metatastiz spread.