Haford Hardware Christmas commercial warms hearts across the internet – CNN

Every Christmas, big companies and high street brands pump serious money into making their annual holiday TV commercial.
— Read on www.cnn.com/2019/12/04/uk/heartwarming-christmas-advert-intl-scli-gbr/index.html

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Bumblebee Nest

Today NatureFresh brought their mobile greenhouse to Heinen’s. It was very cool, but I liked their bumblebee hive best. Find out where they’ll be next at http://www.naturefresh.ca/greenhouse-education-center/

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So Long, Farewell, Au Revoir, Adios

In other words, goodbye.

Although I am still reading, ranting and raving, I am no longer writing romance as a career/hobby/vocation. Thus, it seems a bit inappropriate to continue writing a blog about writing.

Therefore, I am putting this blog on hiatus. I won’t take down old posts, but neither do I expect to add to their number.

You may or may not be aware I have another blog called Keeping A-Breast: Cancer Lessons about my experience having breast cancer and how it affected and continues to affect my life.

I’ve also started a new blog, The Byrd and the Bees. It’s about bees, birds, books, bicycles, and anything else that takes my fancy.

I hope you’ll join me on either — or preferably both. I love sharing my adventures and look forward to reading your comments. IMG_0232


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Shots in the Head: A Post About Alopecia

It’s shocking to comb your hair after a shower and discover a bald spot that wasn’t there the day before.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been — as my Grandpa would say — bald as a cue ball in the past, and losing hair as a result of taking Anastrazole for the last five years. It’s still a shock, and more than a little distressing, as you can imagine by pretending the picture below is of your head rather than mine.fullsizerender-5

This seemingly random baldness is called Alopecia areata. If I’d lost all the hair on my head, it would have been Alopecia totalis. And complete loss of hair on scalp, face, and body is called Alopecia universalis.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack normal cells, but no one really knows what causes the immune system to do this. (You can learn more here.)

I suspect funding for research is probably limited, perhaps rightly so. After all, no one dies from baldness. And it doesn’t hurt. When you think of the many conditions and diseases that both kill and cause pain, well, to what type of research would you allocate funds?

In the grand scheme of things, losing part of my hair seemed unimportant. And yet, it worried me. What if it never came back? What if I lost it all? What if I lost it all  and it never came back?

It happens sometimes. Again, no one knows why

My bald spot was initially the size of a nickel, possibly a quarter, and I addressed the problem by consulting my oncologist about going off Anastrazole. He agreed it couldn’t hurt, especially when I was due to finish my course of the drug that month anyway.

But the bald spot got bigger, so I went to my GP. By this time, of course, I’d done my research (once a librarian, always a librarian) and knew what the standard treatments were: time, topical steroids and possibly Rogaine, followed by steroid injections if those didn’t work.

Sometimes the treatments work. Sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes hair comes back without treatment. And sometimes it doesn’t.

No one knows why.

The spot grew still larger, eventually surpassing the size of a silver dollar.

And me? I was feeling grateful I’d been in the process of growing out my hair and could camouflage the spot.

Yes, I have a comb-over. And like many balding men, I live in fear of wind (not kidding, and please do not make any Donald Trump jokes).

Eventually, I quit messing around and went to the dermatologist, knowing quite well it would mean getting shots in my head.

They weren’t as bad as they sound, at least not the first time, and I actually started to regrow some of my hair. Yay!

But on the second visit, when the PA re-measured the empty spot, it was bigger, so she was a little more aggressive with the needle. Think being stung multiple times — not horrible, but not pleasant either.

On my third visit (last week) we found the baldness hadn’t gotten worse, and my hair was slowly filling in. fullsizerender-7This time, the shots made my head hurt and itch for an hour or so.

As you can imagine, I’ll be glad if/when this spot fills in completely.

Maybe that will be the end of Alopecia areata for me.

Maybe not.

It could come back in another place next month, next year, never.

No one knows.

There’s a 2.1% chance you may develop Alopecia in your lifetime.

I wrote this post to let you know you’re not alone if it does.



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I just finished Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. The book has generated a lot of well-deserved buzz for many reasons, not least of which is the fact it’s a damn good read. NPR’s Terry Gross has interviewed the author, and The New Yorker  gave it a lengthy review. Having the New York Times name Elegy one of “Six Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win” probably helped some too. 162224

However, I requested it from the library long before the hype.

Elegy is the story of Vance’s predominantly Scotch-Irish family, who migrated from Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio to find work, and took their hillbilly culture with them. His grandfather worked in the Armco steel mill.

My  grandparents — who also had Scotch-Irish blood (mixed with German) — made a similar migration for work, from West Virginia to Massillon, Ohio. My grandfather got a job in a steel mill.

My husband, The Engineer, sometimes works in Middletown at the same mill (now AK Steel) that once employed Vance’s Papaw.

Clearly, this was the story of my people.

Except it wasn’t.

Certainly my father considered himself a hillbilly until the day he died, long after his drawl faded to what someone once said was “not an accent, but a more relaxed way of speaking.”

In fact, I don’t remember him sounding Southern at all except for a few words: “crick” for creek, and “De-troit”for Detroit. I was probably ten before I finally figured out “holler” was a corruption of “hollow.”

He also used expressions best described as colorful.
“She’s a tall glass of water.”
“He could roll in shit and come up smelling of roses.”
And my least favorite, “You and your sister are pretty in two ways. Pretty ugly and pretty apt to stay that way.” (He was joking, but it definitely kept any budding vanity well in check.)

But my family’s culture differed from Vance’s. There were no arrests and violent fights. My parents and grandparents expected their children to do well, to get an education and rise above the socioeconomic level into which they were born.

We were taught the only way to get ahead was to work — and work hard — to be punctual, diligent, and earn every cent of our pay, no matter how small that pay was.

My upbringing differed from Vance’s in more ways than I can count, but it really comes down to this: My childhood was stable, filled only with the worries of a kid — fighting with siblings, going to school, failing miserably at sports, and trying to get out of doing my chores. I never had to think about what circumstance would greet me when I got home.

That came later, when I was slightly better equipped to handle critical situations.

Vance’s childhood, and those of his parents and siblings, was crisis-filled, with his beloved Mamaw and Papaw providing the only stability he and his sisters knew.

I don’t know why this happened. My hillbillies were more German than Scotch-Irish — could that be enough to make our lives so different?

Like Vance’s, when you shake our family tree, some skeletons rattle.

  • When my aunt became pregnant out-of-wedlock, she didn’t marry the father and gave the child up for adoption, but what compelled those decisions?
  • My grandfather who told my dad he’d never amount to anything. (Puts the “pretty ugly” comment into perspective, doesn’t it?) Why would he say such a thing?
  • The same grandfather left school at a young age and worked as a ditch digger for the government during the Depression before moving his family north. He and my grandmother lived in rented homes throughout my childhood, so obviously there wasn’t much money.
  • My great-aunt took her father’s shotgun into the barn and killed herself.
  • A night-time house fire once destroyed everything but the clothing and blankets my father’s family ran out with.
  • My father used alcohol as an escape when confronted with life situations beyond his control (divorce) and also considered suicide — going so far as to write letters to each of us kids — before calling a friend who managed to talk him out of it.
  • My brother killed himself for reasons none of us will ever know or understand.
  • Another brother was once a sister, a circumstance that comes with its own identity issues, and a continually changing family situation. (He has always been more boy than girl. Looking back, that is startlingly clear.)
  • I didn’t escape completely, being stupid enough to marry a bigamist. I even quit my job to work with him in our own construction business, somehow managing to forget I knew nothing about construction or business. And bigamy was the least of his failings, making me lucky to escape with only a bankruptcy to show for it.

The difference is these crises occurred either long before I was born or when I was old enough to have an adult’s perspective (if not an adult’s maturity) and strength to handle them. They also occurred over many years rather than continually, and though they directly affected my family, I was never the one in crisis.

Well, except for the bigamist, and that was so clearly my own fault, I could hardly claim to be a victim.

“Victimhood” is an idea Vance touches on in his book, a perspective some learn as children, taught their failures are never their own because they believe they have no power to change them.

Elegy provides a unique look at how these seeming opposite concepts — a perceived lack of power and an inability to take responsibility for one’s actions — can be tightly woven  into a family culture, making it almost impossible to break free.

Our families form us. Our parents — and sometimes our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins — are our teachers, long before we know we are learning. Our behaviors, attitudes, and emotions are rooted in a family tree that began long before we were born.

How is it that my family, with all its tragedies, managed to provide a stable foundation on which to grow, while other families do not?

I don’t claim to know the answer. Nor does J.D.Vance.

Read the book anyway because it will make you consider the question. And perhaps you will get a glimpse into a life very different from — or very similar to — your own.




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Why Romance?

For some NaNoWriMo fun, I’m sharing this post on how to write a romance. I hope you’ll find it an amusing break from your writing efforts.

Reblogged on WordPress.com

Source: Why Romance?

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You Can’t Expect the Unexpected

“Expect the unexpected.”
Can someone please explain to me how this phrase makes any sense? FullSizeRender-4By definition, the unexpected cannot be expected. Or it wouldn’t be unexpected, would it?

The Urban Dictionary is even more virulent with its definition of the nonsensical phrase. Click through if you care to read their opinion.

This unexpected/expected concept has been on my mind because the past week has been filled with unexpected developments.

My darling cat, Rosa, started doing this weird winking thing with one eye, which meant an unexpected visit to the vet. A half hour later and $118 poorer, I learned she had Pink Eye. (She’s fine now as you can see — doesn’t even fret when I put the eye drops in.)


The next morning, my tooth implant popped out when I was flossing, providing the unexpected opportunity to visit my dentist. I won’t share a picture of that since I look like a crone without the implant.

Darling Daughter was to sign her first lease on Saturday and unexpectedly felt the need of motherly support. This meant an unexpected (but welcome) trip to Delaware (OH), which proved fortuitous because my brother unexpectedly ended up in a Columbus hospital with an infection in his knee.

Since I was already in the area, it was easy to run in and see him. Several days and a surgery later, he’s home with a PIC line and more than a month of antibiotics and rehab ahead of him. FullSizeRender-3

Then, last night — shortly after I’d seen a neighbor’s cat stalking around our property — a nuthatch crashed into the glass door in our dining room. We live in the woods, so this occasionally happens. Birds generally give a shake of the head and fly off.

But Nuthatch just lay there, looking stunned.

Fearful of the feline predator, I grabbed a towel and picked up the bird, setting him on the railing for a running (flying?) start back into the air. But when Nuthatch tried to fly, he kind of flopped over sideways, landing first on the deck and then on the grass below.IMG_0526

In another case of fortunate timing, earlier that day, my friend Carole had told me about her grandchildren taking an injured bird to the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center at Penintentiary Glen.

So I knew just who to call. Following Carole’s directions on handling the injured creature, I put Nuthatch in a box with air holes and left him in a quiet place. (Instructions are also on the website above.)

When the poor bird’s flying skills had not improved by this morning, I took an unexpected journey to Kirtland to take him to the Wildlife Center.

It was a beautiful drive, the people were kind, and the visitor and wildlife centers lovely. With luck, Nuthatch will recover from his concussion, or at very least, he won’t be a cat’s dinner.
Rosa’s eye is no longer pink.
My tooth is back in my head.
Darling Daughter’s lease is signed, and we had a pleasant afternoon together, ending with a visit with my brother.

I am a planner and a to-do lister by nature. If I had been able to expect these unexpected events, I would have scheduled them in my life as I do most things, and been lulled into a greater and even more false sense of control.  But the simple truth is we cannot plan for every eventuality. It’s foolish to try.

I know this, yet the unexpected sometimes makes me cranky. <Insert Darling Daughter’s sarcastic comment here. “Ya’ think?” or something similar will cover it.>

A week filled with the unexpected reminded me to quit being so rigid.

“Expect the unexpected.”

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Travel Magic in Chincoteague

Travel Magic — Magic happens when you travel.

“I’ll go if you get me across the bridge.” That’s what T said when asked if she’d do a Road Scholar bike trip with me on Chincoteague Island.

I don’t much care for bridges either, but if that’s what stood — or possibly swayed — between me and a bike ride that promised a seafood feast the first night, well, let’s just say I’d go a long way for fresh crab.

Even across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

It wasn’t until after we’d registered that T mentioned the Mosquitos. Initially, I capitalized the word by accident, but honestly, the Mosquitos on Chincoteague deserve the attention of a proper noun. In fact, the word should be boldface.

Mosquitos love me, even when I wear insect repellent. I think they consider it a condiment.

I came home with more than twenty-five bites.

I don’t think T got any.

Anyway, I got us across the bridge, though we spent the whole seventeen miles telling each other how not bad it was.

“This isn’t so bad,” I said, eyes glued to the car in front of me.

“No,” T responded. “It’s okay.”

“We’re okay.”

“Yeah. We’re fine.”

“Fine,” I echoed. “We’re fine.”

The conversation continued in this vein until we reached the other side.

“That wasn’t so bad,” T said as we exited.

“Nope,” I agreed. “It was okay.”

I also got us back to the mainland at the end of the trip, but that time our discussion was a muttered litany.

“We’re okay-we’re okay-we’re okay-we’re okay.”

I think the return side of the bridge is higher.
Unsurprisingly, neither of us took pictures of its span so we may never know.

But the seafood feast was worth it — a long table covered with newspaper, steamed crab and shrimp, potatoes, and corn on the cob, with pots of melted butter on the side. The only utensils? Our fingers, a mallet and a pick.

It was magical. In fact, I may never be able to eat crab again (unless I go back to Chincoteague). It was that fresh.

Usually travel magic happens once or twice during a journey, if you’re lucky. You look down from a plane just in time to spot Crater National Park. Perhaps wander into a restaurant because it looks interesting, and there’s a steel drum band playing. Show up at the Globe Theater hoping for a tour, only to discover they aren’t running because of the performance. Which starts in five minutes with “groundling” (standing) tickets available for only five pounds. So you end up seeing a Shakespeare play from where other peasants actually viewed his productions during his lifetime.

But the whole Chicoteague trip was magical.
Beautiful scenery. Great weather on the days we rode. Friendly people.
I think it’s best to let the pictures tell the story.

IMG_0232Answering the burning question: “What do librarians do on holiday?”

Chincoteague Library was all a small, island library should be,
including the statue of Misty (as in Misty of Chincoteague).


The beach at Assateague Island was nearly deserted the day we arrived, so it was just us and the waves.

We drove down early and stayed the nights before and after the tour at the delightful and charming Sea Shell Motel (family run for over forty years!).
This gave us extra time to explore the island (and its library). The last night, our neighbors were a couple of hard-working, southern boys who addressed us as “Ma’am,” and asked if we knew where there was a laundry. I took a photo of their workboots outside the door because I liked the the juxtaposition of them and the beer can. I also liked the bricks chosen for the patio outside our room. Look closely, and you’ll see the leaf imprints.IMG_0264

The tacos at Pico Taqueria were as delicious as they look.

IMG_0201This pot was outside a shop. Its sign read “Please do not disturb. Nesting duck.” IMG_0207
It seemed there were roses everywhere.

Also sea and marsh birds of endless variety.
The picture on the right was taken through the windshield because I didn’t want to get out of the car. For one thing, I’d scare the bird, and for another, I’d immediately become mosquito bait.

The first stop on our bike ride was the oldest house on the island. It still has the mortar it was built with, though the house was moved from its original location. Someone in the family was probably a sailor because there were carvings of ships in several places.
Here’s the back door view from the home’s new spot.IMG_0226

The second day, we met Randy, a waterman whose spent his life making a living from the sea. Here he demonstrates how to shuck an oyster. Several of our group indulged.
I wasn’t one of them.
When I posted this on Facebook, my phone tried to correct the caption.
It took “Shuck ’em, suck ’em, eat ’em raw,” and changed every”’em” to “me” to create an X-rated version of my statement.  Fortunately, I caught the error before posting. IMG_0241I saw this along the road one day.
Other, less lucky riders including T, saw a truck full of dead chickens.
(There are many factory chicken farms in the area, and after hearing the pathetic sounds emanating from the buildings, I’ll never buy another Tyson or Perdue chicken.)

But Chincoteague is a magical place, despite its mosquitos. I’m so glad we went.FullSizeRender_1

“Suffering makes you deep. Travel makes you broad. In case I get my pick, I’d rather travel.”
— Judith Viorst

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How to Create a Legacy

How do you create a legacy? If you’re a philanthropic billionaire, you might donate money to a school or a hospital or a children’s home in the hope they’ll name it after you. If you’re an earthbound saint like Mother Theresa, you give up your worldly goods and spend your time ministering to the poor.

And if you’re my friend Pat, you create a legacy by being who you are and sharing your gift for quilting by making them for others. Pat has created quilts for new babies, weddings, the Guthrie Center (she’s a huge Arlo fan), and for charity auctions including Relay for Life and the Ovarian Quilt Project. She even made one for me, which I wrote about last April, though I’m still not sure what I did to deserve it.

Friendship Quilt

Friendship Quilt

However, a big part of Pat’s legacy is the way she’s dealt with ovarian cancer — continuing to live her life with laughter and fun, through its trials and pain, exhibiting more strength and grace than most of us could muster.

Now, she’s receiving hospice care, which you already know if you read either of my blogs. What you don’t know is how the quilting community has rallied round to make sure Pat’s legacy continues.

First, two  women in her quilting guild and another friend offered to help finish the quilts Pat still had in progress. Then, the rest of the guild volunteered to take charge of the fabric in Pat’s sewing room — a huge task since there’s enough to open a small quilt shop. The group plans to use the fabric to make quilts to donate to charities in Pat’s name.

I have to pause to compose myself whenever I tell people this because it always makes me cry.

<deep breath>

But Pat’s legacy is bigger than that. Like me, she started following “Tall Tales from Chiconia,” the blog of a fellow cancer survivor and quilter who lives in Australia. This blogger was organizing a quilting event called Foot²Freestyle, where 12 members from around the world (USA, UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Australia) were assigned a month to receive three blocks from each other member and make three of their own to compose into a quilt. The blocks are 12″ square (the “Foot²”) and could be made in any design the quilter chooses (the “Freestyle”). The recipient could choose three colors for her quilt.

Pat was to be “Miss May,” and her colors included teal, which is associated with ovarian cancer support. But things changed.

<deep breath>

The group responded by bumping her up. Not only are they making the quilt for Pat, who will donate it to the quilt project, they somehow through the magic of computers, created a virtual quilt for her, in case it isn’t done in time. (There’s an awful lot of mailing involved with quilt squares coming from three continents.) Here it is. Gorgeous, don’t you think?pats-virtual-quilt

There’s more. Kate, author of “Tall Tales of Chiconia,” has asked her fellow bloggers to share this story, along with information about the symptoms of that sneaky bastard ovarian cancer and a link to their country’s national ovarian cancer support organization. In the US, that organization is the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. 

The symptoms, alas, are equally vague no matter where you live. As Kate put it:

“We urge you to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of ovarian cancer — symptoms which are so common and so ephemeral that many don’t consider them symptoms at all. For this reason, ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages, often leading to a poor prognosis. Some of you reading this are men, in which case, please pass the information to your mothers, wives, sisters or daughters. It’s important.”

Here are the symptoms, quoted directly from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website: “Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you.

Kate has also offered to make a quilt for the Australian Ovarian Cancer organization and invited her fellow bloggers to either join her or make a similar offer to the organization where they live.

And now, I have a favor to ask. To help spread Pat’s legacy, I hope you will please share this post, or at least the symptoms and a link to the Ovarian Cancer Alliance.

Because we all have Pats in our lives.

<deep breath>

And it’s very hard to lose them.

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Cancer Lesson #77: It’s Not Always All About Me

Source: Cancer Lesson #77: It’s Not Always All About Me

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