Monday, June 17, 2013

Faithful readers. I love you all.



Dear faithful readers:

I admire your persistence, your willingness to check my blog to see if there is anything new.

There are new things. I just haven't written about them yet. But I promise, I will.

The big news. . . well, maybe CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN won't mention it, but who watches them anyhow? Not me.

The big news is that I am going to update my "little old lady blog" into a real (gasp) author web-site. Not doing it on my own because every time I try to do something advanced on my laptop, the power goes out in my neighborhood. I'm working with a pro-fess-ion-al! Big time!

I'm so excited, I may have to take a nap. I'll keep you posted.

Harriet



Friday, February 15, 2013

KNOCK IN THE NIGHT





The novel, Agenda 21, has been read by many, many people. I know how many copies have been sold. And many readers have reached out to me, for which I am grateful. The most gratifying may be the one I am telling you about on this humble blog:

A package was mailed to me c/o Madwoman in the Attic. I received it yesterday at our weekly meeting.

I didn't recognize the name or address of the sender.

The package contained 2 copies of a book: Knock In the Night by Balazs Szabo. One was a signed copy for me. There was also a letter for me from the author. The letter, per verbatim, reads:
                              ****************************************
2/5/13

Dear Harriet:

I am so swept away by the book you wrote. Glad Glenn put his name on it for marketing purposes.

You have written the fiction of what my people and I have lived in Soviet Communist occupied Hungary.

The Agenda 21 Plan of the UN is nothing more than a carbon copy of that same evil and its desire of world domination.

My book Knock In The Night tells it the way it was for me until my escape at 13.5 in 1956.

Hope you have time to read it and share the extra coy with the writing club at Madwomen in the Attic.

My apologies, but I am not an author and perhaps I should have stuck to brushes my tools of art, but the story had to be told for my sons.

Congratulations for your master piece. Hope you get my countryman's (Pulitzer) award for it which is unlikely while this regime is in power.

Warmly,
Balazs Szabo
                         **********************************************
His bio identifies him as an internationally-renowed artist and his artwork is in museums from New Jersey to Hawaii. His art work, The Eye of the Muse, won the 1987 U.S.A. Print Design Excellence Award. He remains devoted to the ideals of freedom and Democracy for all.

I am both honored and humbled by his words and his life experiences.






Friday, January 25, 2013

I MET JOHN QUINCY ADAMS



It happened again. . .God whispered in my ear. I had a fun interview on the local Indiana, PA, radio station, and stopped over at Indiana Regional Medical Center to say hello to friends. Friends fortify me with smiles, geniune glad-to-see-you smiles. I can't thank them enough; they know who they are.

Then on to the car dealership for routine car maintenance. While I waited, I scrolled through the news items of the day on my mobile. (Yes, my family convinced me to update into the 21st century and now I am tethered real time to the whole world.) As I scrolled through the items, I felt the good mood of the morning slipping away. The news lately, in my opinion, has been overwhelmingly alarming.

So. . .sitting there in the dealership, their TV volume turned way too high, broadcasting some inane daytime show, I felt deflated by the news, deflated like party balloon because there was no longer any reason to party and be happy.

Service on the car was completed and the technician gave me the status report and the bill. He introduced himself as John Quincy Adams! Really? Really? Staff in the area confirmed that was really his name.

"Named for a founding father?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Named for the son of a founding father. My family has that tradition."

Really! Then I knew the sons (and daughters) of the founding fathers are in our world. . .with or without specific historical names. And I drove away feeling hopeful.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Government Regulations, Intrusive Baby Steps



I knit. . .it gives me pleasure to make things for family and friends. Every inch of the yarn passes over my fingers, loops around the needles, takes shape, becomes functional.

Often, I would fashion felted articles. (Felting used to be called boiled wool.) Garments are dense, warm, desirable.

So. . .what's that got to do with government regulations? In the past, when the garment, usually a hat or purse, was completed, it was time to "felt" it. All I had to do was set the washing machine on a hot cycle, toss in the garment and monitor the progress of it shrinking down from a oversized, loosely knit project to a tight, firm felted shape. Simple enough, until I had to replace my washing machine. The first time I used that new machine, the hat I tossed in simply would not felt. It came out soggy and just as big and loosely knit as it went in. I repeated the wash cycle with the same disappointing results. The water was barely tepid.

I called the repairman and explained that the hot water function of the machine wasn't working. It cost me a $70 house call to learn that the temperatures of washing machines was now regulated by the federal government to save energy.

Oh, puh-leeze! (And how pasty the repairman looked in the light cast by a CFL light bulb. But I digress.)

I doubt my hobby of felting wool would harm the planet.
On the other hand, the mercury in CFL bulbs might.

Agenda 21, creeping insidiously.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

SAVE WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE



It's happening. It's not fiction. In the novel, Agenda 21, the churches were destroyed. Worshipping God was forbidden. The novel was fiction. But in our present day reality, the assault on religion is apparent.

Consider this case in Connellsville, PA: "Group that wants Ten Commandments icon removed says because of its location, impressionable youths forced to consider it as edicts." (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Thursday, 1/10/2013, by Liz Zemba.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has filed suit on behalf of an anonymous atheist parent of a non-religious student in the Connellsville Junior High School because children "cannot help but see it as they attend classes."

What is it the "impressionable youths" cannot help but see? A stone monument of the Ten Commandments donated 55 years ago by the Connellsville Eagles. Lord, help us! A local church offered to move the monument from school property and place it on church property but the anonymous parent (why, oh, why are these people always anonymous?) objected because the children could still see it.

From the novel: "Save what you think you are going to lose."  From fiction to reality.


Friday, December 28, 2012

ABOUT THIS COINCIDENCE THING



 
 
The coincidence thing happened again. And in the most unexpected, circuitous manner. Friends of mine at my previous place of employment were e-mailing me, requesting I sign their copies of Agenda 21. The Human Resources department there. . .such nice people!. . .made arrangements for me to come in for a signing so it would be convenient for me and the employees.

Armed with a Sharpie, I was ready to hop in the car and head out. But I checked my e-mail one last time before I left. Okay, I admit it. I'm slightly OCD. There was a new message from my daughter-in-law about service dogs. She has wanted a therapy dog for my 12 year old granddaughter who has mobility limitations and had just heard, that morning, about service dogs specifically for diabetics. Our 7 year old granddaughter, same family, was just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That's a tough diagnosis. Actually, it is a life changer, especially for a 7 year old.
 
That's pretty heavy duty. . .2 service dogs for the same family.

 
But, on to the book signing and yet another coincidence. One of the employees, a gentle soul, was grateful that I took the time to come in. So she presented me with a gift. . .a signed copy of Until Tuesday, by Luis Carlos Montalvan. It's the story of "A Wounded  Warrior and the Golden Retriever who saved him." A service dog!
 
A coincidence? I think not. That employee was unaware that I have special needs grandchildren. She simply wanted to give me a signed copy of a book as a thank you. It just happened to be about a service dog. And service dogs were on my mind that day.
 
A sign, if you will, that something poweful is responsible for these events. And I am grateful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Short Post for All My Readers


Dear Gailyn and all other readers:

Thank you for your kind comments. I'd be more than happy to respond to your comments or questions but I have no way to contact you! Please e-mail me: helloharriet@comcast.net.

I really want to respond to the kind folks who have left comments, but this baby-blog of mine doesn't have that option. Do I need a better blog? Hmmm. . .maybe.

Harriet






Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT.




The path to publication was paved with blessings. . .from the support of my family, friends, and the wonderful group of fellow writers in Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University.

It was also paved with what some might call coincidences. Finding a small item in a newspaper or magazine that easily lent itself to being enhanced by my imagination. Meeting a wider and wider circle of fellow writers and making friends with them. Stumbling into history books that described oppressive regimes and the millions of deaths of the citizens of those regimes at the hands of their leaders.

Partnering with Glenn Beck! That was a wow event! I received the first contact from Mercury Ink while on a family vacation with all our children, their spouses, and all our grandchildren. Coincidence? No, a moment to celebrate surrounded by family.

All of that and more. . .coincidence?

It doesn't end there. I was recently at a local book store and I wandered over to the section of new releases. There it was! Agenda 21, Glenn Beck with Harriet Parke. I picked it up and ran my hand over the cover. A man standing next to me said "That's the book I was looking for."

"Really?" I said. "That's my name." I tapped my finger against my name.

He shared with me that he was from a town in Ohio and had wanted to come to the book signing near Pittsburgh but couldn't because he was on the road for his job. He was back on the road again and, according to him, his wife said he had to find Agenda 21 before he came home or she would 'kill' him. (I doubt if she would have actually killed him but he had sought out a bookstore in a sincere effort to please his wife.)

Coincidence? I think not. I hadn't planned to stop at that store while I ran other errands; it was an impulse that made me stop. A man from Ohio is in the Pittsburgh area and finds that particular store. We are at the same spot at the same time. He bought the book. I signed it for him.

Concidence? No. Blessings.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

SHOULD AN AUTHOR READ REVIEWS OF THEIR OWN NOVEL?






I did it! I wrote a book and it's been published. Agenda 21, Glenn Beck with Harriet Parke. What's next? Will anybody read it? And more important, will they like it?

Ah, that's the question! Will they like it?

The people who lined up for the book signing with Glenn Beck liked it. But given that they were willing to stand patiently in line for our signatures, well, that's an indication they are fans.

But what about the anonymous audience, those folks who aren't family or fans? The book is selling well, the numbers are good. But do they like it?

With trepidation, I went to reviews. . . .strange sensation, clicking on comments about my own novel.
Quickly, I sorted through the reviews, and there were a lot of them!

Five stars. . .they liked the book for what it was. Fiction, dystopia, a look into the worst possible future, a cautionary tale.

One star. . .they disliked the book, in most cases without even having read it, because of obvious political bias.

The one star reviews are not relevant to the novel. They are just, for the most part, rants. So be it, freedom of speech and all that. They are easy to ignore.

Instead, I celebrate the five star reviews.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A WAY WITH WORDS


My mother had a way with words -- a habit of using an incorrect word in an almost appropriate context.

Once, when I was growing up, she told me: "You can tell a lot about a person by looking into the 'pulpits' of their eyes." She valued the souls of people and saw pulpits in their eyes.

When I had my first child, her first grandchild, she asked whether they had shaved my "public" hair. I told her no. She sniffed and told me that, in her day, "public" hair was always shaved before babies were delivered. And then she related the discomforts of "public" hair growing back. "So bitchy, I couldn't stand it," she said. She meant itchy; bitchy worked just as well.

Later, when her health problems began, I would take her to doctor appointments. When asked about her past medical history, she would say she had a history of "cardiac arrests." When I corrected that to a history of congestive heart failure, she would give me a stern look. "That's what I just said," she would say, with a small smile.

A child of the Depression, she was the daughter of an alcoholic father and a teenager when her mother died. She survived by forging her father's signature on welfare checks to buy food for her younger brother before her father spent the money on alcohol. And even though her father eventually abandoned her and the brother, years later when he was ailing and needed assistance, she welcomed him into her home. "Of course you can live with us," I heard her say. "We're family. That's what families are for." She said it with sincerity, with joy. That is one wonderful way with words.

She was widowed in her 60s, after caring for her husband, my father, for 10 long Alzheimer's years. She remarried in her 70s. She and her new husband planned a trip to the Outer Banks. They wanted to walk the beach at sunset. A hurricane was predicted for the East Coast at exactly the time they were to be walking the beach. I tried to talk them out of going. "We're going," she said. "We're going to walk the beach."

"Well, if you make it there," I said, "do you remember that little art shop we went to a couple of years ago? I bought a couple of Audubon prints there. You know, bird pictures. Audubons. If you make it to the Outer Banks, could you pick me up another Audubon? They run around $200."

The hurricane didn't change course. They didn't make it to the beach. Instead, her 80-year-old husband told us, with a little giggle, they had only gotten as far as Intercourse, Pa. She giggled, too, and patted his hand.

"But," she said, "The best part is, I got the picture you wanted. And, it was only $198, so I saved you $2." She handed me a large, flat cardboard box. She stood, smiling and proud, as I opened the box.

There, in a massive black frame, was a picture. In the snowy background was a red barn. In the foreground, on a thick dark tree trunk, were two red-headed woodpeckers. The sales slip lying on top of the picture read: "Dutchland Galleries, Kitchen Kettle Village, Intercourse, Pa -- $198"

"I am so glad we found this," she said, hugging my shoulders. "What luck! Finding a picture of birds on a barn! Just exactly what you wanted."

Birds on a barn. Audubon. My mother, a woman who could use perfectly incorrect words in an almost, but not quite, appropriate context.

After she died, I received a condolence e-mail from someone I vaguely remember. It read: "I was so sad to hear of your mother's death. I think she saved my life. When I was a little girl, I was in a bad home situation. Your mother heard about it and would bring me to your house to play. She also took me to church and taught me to sing 'Jesus Loves Me." She made a difference in my life."

I remember my mother singing "Jesus Loves Me." She had a way with words.

Birds on a barn hangs over my desk, right next to my Audubons, more precious than my Audubons. Thank you, Mother. Thank you.

Harriet Parke is a freelance writer from Apollo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dear Blog Readers




Writers write to be read.  That's a universal sentiment among writers and I share it. The next thing writers want is to know who is reading their work and why. I'd be thrilled to know who reads my tiny blog, why they read it, and what they think of the various posts.

Please comment with your thoughts. I'll be waiting breathlessly!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Agenda 21 | Book by Glenn Beck, Harriet Parke - Simon & Schuster

Agenda 21 | Book by Glenn Beck, Harriet Parke - Simon & Schuster

What an amazing adventure. Inspired by listening to Glenn Beck when he talked about Agenda 21. (It's real, folks.) He always says: "Don't believe me. Do your own homework." So I did. I went to credible sources and read what was out there. Then my imagination took over and I envisioned a worse case scenario. Writers do that. Sent the finished manuscript out and with the support of Glenn Beck's staff and Simon and Schuster editors revised and polished. The manuscript improved under their tutelage and support. I am blessed by this experience and by the support of my family and friends.

Life is good. Yes, life is good.

Monday, June 18, 2012

UNTITLED (You can suggest a title. I'd appreciate that.)

                They knelt, shoulder to shoulder, on the cold floor and peered out of their living room window. The house across the street was on fire.
                The flames danced up toward the sky and shadowy figures danced and twirled in front of the house. Someone was beating on a drum erratically, without rhythm. There was chanting, a togetherness of words in the group.
                “I don’t think they got out. Sam and Evelyn. I don’t think they got out,” the man whispered. She didn’t answer.
                “Every night, a different house. One by one, moving down the street. Why? What the hell are they doing?”
                “Protesting,” she whispered.
                “Protesting? Protesting Sam and Evelyn? And Mary and John the night before? What the hell?”
                “I don’t know.  I’m cold.”
                He put his right arm across her shoulders and she leaned against him.
                The roof of the house across the street crumbled down in a thunderous roar. The shadowy figures jumped and stamped some sort of victory dance. They spun faster and faster, the drumming was louder.
                “Where are the firemen?” she asked.
                “I heard they were all killed.”
                “Who told you that?”
                “I just heard it. Never mind where.”
                “And the police?”
                “Don’t ask.”
                “I’m still cold.”
                He shifted his weight from his knees, turned and leaned against the wall, stretching his legs out in front of him.  “Is there any food left?” he asked.
                “You asked that yesterday. And the day before. Quit asking. Just  vitamins.”
                “Get me some,” he said.
                She crawled on her hands and knees across the room to their grab-and- go-bag.  She opened and closed the zippered compartments until she felt the round plastic bottle of vitamins. She shook two of the vitamins into her hand.
                “Here,” she said, handing him one and chewing on the other one.
                “No water left?” he asked.
                “No.”
                “We’ve got to do something. Anything. Something.”
                “Like what?”
                “I don’t know. It wasn’t supposed to happen here. It happened over there. Faraway.”
                “Yes, I know. We watched it on the news. Over there.”
                “Then it was here. But just big cities.”
                “I know. We watched it on the news. While we ate pizza.”
                “I’d love a pizza right now. With anchovies.”
                “Stop it.”
                The fire continued to burn across the street. It was the last house on that side of the street to burn. The others on that side lay in ruins with carcasses of cars left in destroyed timbers of garages.
                “I think we’re next,” he said.  His voice was barely a whisper.
                “I think you’re right,” She said.
                “You said God wouldn’t let this happen. That’s what you said.”
                “I know. I was wrong.”
                “Let us pray,” he said, picking up a rusty old crow-bar by the front door.
                “Yes,” she said, picking up a ball bat. Yes, Let us pray, let us pray.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

HE SAID, SHE SAID

True story. Names changed sort of. (No names given. You can figure it out.)

"Bunch of us are going to West Virginia next weekend to shoot the rapids. Want to come?" he said.

"Why would you want to shoot rabbits? Why would I want to shoot rabbits?" she asked.

"It'll be fun," he said.

"It'll be fun shooting rabbits?" she asked.

"Yes, it'll be a blast." He smiled at her. "Come with us; have some fun."

"Fun? And why do you have to go to West Virginia to shoot rabbits?" she said.

"Cause the rapids are bigger there."

"So, the rabbits are bigger there, in West Virginia, and it will be fun shooting them? Do the rabbits think it's fun?"

"The rapids don't care, for crying out loud. They're just rapids. Do you want to come or not?"

(This is how married people talk. . . .he said, she heard. But I digress.)

"So if I go, what should I wear? To shoot rabbits, I mean, what should I wear?"

"That's a stupid question. Wear a bathing suit. Do you want to come or not?"

"A bathing suit? What, the rabbits spray us with water?"

"Of course. They're rapids. What do you expect?"

I expect conversations to make sense.

"I never thought you would drive all those miles to shoot rabbits. Big or not, we've got rabbits around here. Some ate your tomato plants."

He looked at her as though she was crazy. She looked at him as though he was crazy. Sometimes, that's how married people look at each other.

Finally, finally, they figured out the dialogue problem. She went with him to West Virginia and almost drowned in the rapids. More on that in a later post, if you're interested.





Wednesday, May 23, 2012

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Writing is like fighting the fear of failure with the weapon of opportunity.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A WAY WITH WORDS

My mother had a way with words -- a habit of using an incorrect word in an almost appropriate context.
Once, when I was growing up, she told me: "You can tell a lot about a person by looking into the 'pulpits' of their eyes." She valued the souls of people and saw pulpits in their eyes.

When I had my first child, her first grandchild, she asked whether they had shaved my "public" hair. I told her no. She sniffed and told me that, in her day, "public" hair was always shaved before babies were delivered. And then she related the discomforts of "public" hair growing back. "So bitchy, I couldn't stand it," she said. She meant itchy; bitchy worked just as well.

Later, when her health problems began, I would take her to doctor appointments. When asked about her past medical history, she would say she had a history of "cardiac arrests." When I corrected that to a history of congestive heart failure, she would give me a stern look. "That's what I just said," she would say, with a small smile.
A child of the Depression, she was the daughter of an alcoholic father and a teenager when her mother died. She survived by forging her father's signature on welfare checks to buy food for her younger brother before her father spent the money on alcohol. And even though her father eventually abandoned her and the brother, years later when he was ailing and needed assistance, she welcomed him into her home. "Of course you can live with us," I heard her say. "We're family. That's what families are for." She said it with sincerity, with joy. That is one wonderful way with words.

She was widowed in her 60s, after caring for her husband, my father, for 10 long Alzheimer's years. She remarried in her 70s. She and her new husband planned a trip to the Outer Banks. They wanted to walk the beach at sunset. A hurricane was predicted for the East Coast at exactly the time they were to be walking the beach. I tried to talk them out of going. "We're going," she said. "We're going to walk the beach."
"Well, if you make it there," I said, "do you remember that little art shop we went to a couple of years ago? I bought a couple of Audubon prints there. You know, bird pictures. Audubons. If you make it to the Outer Banks, could you pick me up another Audubon? They run around $200."

The hurricane didn't change course. They didn't make it to the beach. Instead, her 80-year-old husband told us, with a little giggle, they had only gotten as far as Intercourse, Pa. She giggled, too, and patted his hand.
"But," she said, "The best part is, I got the picture you wanted. And, it was only $198, so I saved you $2." She handed me a large, flat cardboard box. She stood, smiling and proud, as I opened the box.

There, in a massive black frame, was a picture. In the snowy background was a red barn. In the foreground, on a thick dark tree trunk, were two red-headed woodpeckers. The sales slip lying on top of the picture read: "Dutchland Galleries, Kitchen Kettle Village, Intercourse, Pa -- $198"
"I am so glad we found this," she said, hugging my shoulders. "What luck! Finding a picture of birds on a barn! Just exactly what you wanted."

Birds on a barn. Audubon. My mother, a woman who could use perfectly incorrect words in an almost, but not quite, appropriate context.
After she died, I received a condolence e-mail from someone I vaguely remember. It read: "I was so sad to hear of your mother's death. I think she saved my life. When I was a little girl, I was in a bad home situation. Your mother heard about it and would bring me to your house to play. She also took me to church and taught me to sing 'Jesus Loves Me." She made a difference in my life."

I remember my mother singing "Jesus Loves Me." She had a way with words.
Birds on a barn hangs over my desk, right next to my Audubons, more precious than my Audubons. Thank you, Mother. Thank you.

Previously published in Pittsburgh Tribune Focus Magazine

Harriet Parke is a freelance writer from Apollo.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

ONE WAY TO WIN THE HULA COMPETITION

First the back story. Always the back story. At my age, almost everything is back story. More fun looking back than forward, if you know what I mean. (If you don't know what I mean, just exit and go twitter what you had for breakfast and maybe someone will care. I won't.)

If you want to skip the back story, just scroll down to the #tag and read the part where I made a total and absolute fool of myself.  I'll understand. I just will never speak to you again. *sigh*

Back to the back story. Three of us were friends from nursing school. Old time nursing students with Florence Nightingale blue capes, white caps and starched uniforms. Oh, Lordy, how long ago was that?

Never mind. Don't ask. It's not relevant.

Anyway, we did the nursing school thing, took our boards, passed, (!) and moved on. The three of us married, took part in each other weddings,  (all the husbands liked to hunt and fish, bonus points!) had kids. We traveled through life stages together. Buying houses, raising kids, working, putting suddenly tall children through college, attending weddings, having grandchildren. Achieving the Great American Dream as we saw it.

And finally, retired, we're ready to travel. Wahoo!

#tag Our first trip together was a Hawaiian cruise. Packed our bags, flew to LA and off we went.  The crew kept us entertained during the sea time from the main land to the dream land. 9000 calories a day and activities. Oh, yes, the activities. Our guys watched films on fishing and volcanoes (yawn) but us gals took hula lessons. Got that? Hula lessons. The waving arm motions, the waving hip motions, knees bent, straightened, broad smiles, face the audience, turn, now back is to the audience. Us broads dug it. One of the women in this group obviously had some elderly issues. Her vacant smile, the halting, shuffling gait, the inability to do the arm and hip motion things were a give-away. Her husband was loving and attentive and propelled her, his arm on her elbow, through the dining room, fixed her plate, cut her meat, tended to her. Lovingly, so lovingly. He brought her to every scheduled hula lesson.

Okay. So the deal is on the return trip from dream land to LA, the last night at sea, the passengers are the evening entertainment. The hula group is scheduled to perform. We're up for the gig. (We may have been drinking. Oh, Lordy, how long ago was that? I dunno.)

Before we went on stage, I was in the ladies room, checking last minute for lipstick on my teeth, wearing the perfect dress for a hula performance. The skirt was "car wash style" meaning  it was cut in thin strips from knee to hip like a car wash swirling mop. Perfect. I followed the elderly lady from the bathroom to the stage and saw she had a long tail of toilet paper stuck to her shoe and snaking behind her. "Poor woman," I thought, "how embarrassing. I hope I am never so unaware."

We're on stage. Taped ukulele music playing. Choreography rules. And as I sway, arms moving, hips moving, broad smile, facing the audience, then turning, back to audience, I realize I had tucked most of the back of my car wash skirt into the waist band of my underwear. Hips swaying, my bottom in full view.

Applause.





Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CONFESSIONS OF AN OCCASIONALLY IRRESPONSIBLE GRANDMOTHER


First some back story. I raised three children to adulthood so it is okay to assume I know a thing or two about kid maintenance. Things like the value of fruits and vegetables, the everyday need for clean underwear, the critical importance of carpools, and how to bury a dead hamster. Important stuff.

Fast forward to being a grandparent. Whole new ball game. M&M pretzels are better than apples and finger painting is more fun than doing laundry. A dynamic shift in the rules and regulations of everyday activities.

So. . .now for the confessions. (Painful, painful confessions because it's hard to admit to your own flaws.) Recently we were asked to kid-sit two grandchildren. Jared, age fifteen, and Anna, age eleven. Piece of cake, right? Especially since their Mom (my daughter Amy) had printed her unabridged eighty page Kid Maintenance Manual and placed it in a ring binder, center stage on the kitchen counter. Everything we needed to know. Phone numbers for pediatricians, dentists, veterinary (dog included  with this assignment), neighbors, emergency contacts. Lists of chores for the kids. (Yeah, like Nana is really going to make the kids do chores.What, and lose her Nana halo?)

The most complicated part of the Kid Maintenance Manual was who had to be where at what time. Swim team, band practice, piano lessons, track practice, youth groups. Each activity had specific times and addresses. The most complicated day was the day we had to pick up Anna at school (remember to bring her a snack), drive her to swim team, and, if Jared had track that day, pick him up and then circle back to pick up Anna from swim team. All of this in Northern Virginia traffic during rush hour. Be still, my heart.

Okay. Got it. Plugged all the relevant addresses into my GPS. Nana obsessive-compulsively organized.  And on swim team day, we left the house, as instructed, promptly at 3:40, jumped in the car, hit the swim team address which had been saved to "favorites" and off we went. It wasn't until we were almost to the athletic center when we realized we hadn't picked up Anna. She sent us a text message, a sad little text message: where r u?

We circled back to the school (it was really rush hour now) and there she was, lonely and forlorn, waiting for us in front of the school. She got into the car and told us the principal said whoever was supposed to pick her up was irresponsible but seemed to understand when Anna explained it was her grandparents. . .as though grandparents, painted with a broad brush, could be excused for being irresponsible.

The next swim team day we did remember to pick Anna up at school and get her to the pool on time but we forgot her swim bag containing suit, towel, goggles and all.


There. Now you know. I am not perfect. I made them Jello with fruit in it. (Yuck.) I made macaroni and cheese from scratch with RoTel tomatoes in it. (Yuck.) But I did buy a big bag of M&M pretzels and we did play some riotous rounds of Scrabble. And I never had to use any emergency phone numbers.

And a good time was had by all!


















Friday, March 30, 2012

Daddy's List



       The dog squirmed as she tried to unfasten the chain from his collar.

       “Hold still, Jesse,” she said. “Quit wiggling.” She knelt beside him and stroked his head. The grass felt cool and wet against her knees. The lilac bush near the dog house was blooming, its lavender flowers fragrant.

“Daddy left me a list of things to do while he’s away and you’re on the list. Yep, you’re on the list.” The dog licked her face with his wet tongue. Finally, she opened the clasp, freeing the dog from his chain. He ran around her in tight little circles and then lay down, legs splayed out, panting. He kept his eyes on her face as though waiting for something.

She sat under the lilac bush, cross-legged, knees tan, feet bare, toes curved like small pink sea shells. Damp from the grass, the hem of her blue cotton dress was a darker blue than the rest of her dress, like deeper ocean water looks compared to shallow surf.

“Smell them flowers, Jesse. Ain’t it like a little bit of heaven? Wish you could talk. Maybe I just can’t hear you.” She scratched the white spot between his ears. “I know you can smell things. Daddy says you’re the best damn hunting dog ever. Hunting dogs can smell most anything.”  She plucked a flower from the bush and held it out to the dog. He ignored the flower and kept his eyes on her face.

 “Oh, well. Just so you know, I think this is what purple smells like.” She laid the flower on the grass and took a piece of dry toast from her pocket.

“Here’s a little bitty treat. I saved it from breakfast.” The dog ate it, then sniffed at her pocket for more.

“That’s all there is, Jesse. Daddy don’t want me to spoil you.” She took a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her dress and carefully opened it. “Here’s the list, Jesse. Ten things. Daddy wants me to read it every day till he gets back. First, I gotta kiss Mommy every morning and blow a kiss to Daddy. I already done that.”

 “Then I gotta say prayers. Okay. I’ll do that tonight.” She held the paper in front of the dog. “See, here you are. Number four. Take care of Jesse for me till I get back.”

Jesse cocked his head and whined.

“I swear, Jesse, you know what I’m saying.”

The dog rolled over, and she scratched his pale pink belly. A bee buzzed among the lilac blossoms in erratic zig-zag patterns.

“I’m not afraid of that bee. Are you afraid, Jesse? Hunting dog like you, you’re not afraid of anything. Now, what’s next on the list? Help Mommy. Today she wants me to pick strawberries.”

She refolded the paper, slipped it into her pocket and stood up. The dog stood also, alert, watching her.

“Mary Elizabeth, you pick those strawberries yet?” Her mother, a vague shadow behind the screen door, called to her.

“Going to do it now, Mommy.”

“Well, hurry up. Don’t be eating any. I need them for jam. And tie Jesse back up. Don’t want him running off or getting hurt.” The shadow slipped away from the screen door.

The door of the garden shed screeched on its hinges. The inside was dark, dusty and jumbled with garden tools. She took a small basket from a low shelf and stepped back into the sunshine. She decided not to tie Jesse just yet and hoped Mommy wouldn’t notice.

The strawberries were planted along the edge of the garden, their leaves dark green. Under the leaves were the berries, firm and full. She picked them carefully, her fingertips soon stained. She ate one, sweetness lingering on her tongue. She didn’t notice the dark shadow in the grass ahead of her as she moved along the row.

 Jesse tensed, the fur along his back prickled up. He moved between the child and the shadow. With a low growl, he lunged. Startled, the child dropped the basket, scattering the berries. Too frightened to scream, she stood rigid, with her soundless mouth open wide.

       The snake struck, straight and fast as an arrow, fangs buried deep in the dog’s throat.

With a lethargic shake of his head, Jesse crumbled, appearing to fold himself downward onto the grass. The snake slithered back into the shadowy darkness of the garden. The child stood over the limp dog with only the garden as witness.

Friday, March 16, 2012

TRIUMPH AT TRIAGE

Note: HIPPA compliant. No real names, no specified locations, no date.

While I was working at triage in an unspecified location on an unspecified date, a patient presented with an unspecified complaint. The patient could be described as a snaggle-toothed redneck but that would sound judgemental so I will resist being that specific in my description.

The patient noticed a doctor in the hallway. The doctor happened to be African-American. (He was an excellent physician.)

The patient stated he didn't want no n..... taking care of him.

No problem, I assured him. Assessment completed, I placed the patient in the treatment area and hand-carried his chart to the other physician on duty.

That physician (also an excellent physician) always wore his Sikh turban. Today was no exception.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Abandoned. Adopted. Given hope and a home.

Child one: abandoned as a new born under a bridge in China. Born with birth defects. No identifying papers. No name. Taken to an orphanage by an unidentified man.

Child two: Abandoned in a bus station in China. Approximate age: 3. She knew her name but didn't know where home was. Better to be abandoned in a bus station than a rice paddy. A small shred of hope. Taken to an orphanage.

Both children adopted by my daughter and son-in-law. Now they know where home is.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A QUIET CARPENTER

He was a quiet man, a carpenter, a builder of houses and maker of furniture. I grew up in the house he built and live now in my own home surrounded by the furniture he made for me: the tall grandfather clock in my living room that chimes every quarter hour to the delight of my young grandchildren, my bedroom suite of lovely Honduras mahogany, scarred over the years by my careless spilling of perfumes, the ranch oak twin beds my boys slept in, the spinning wheel that actually spins. All of this and more my quiet father made.

He built the basement of his house, patiently, one cement block at a time, and we lived in that basement as he built the rest of the house, slowly, paying for building supplies as he went. Aunts, uncles, cousins would gather every weekend to help with the house. The men held nails in their mouths, taking them out only to smoke Camels and Lucky Strikes. The women carried pitchers of iced tea to the men and made sandwiches with thick slices of home-made bread. At the end of the day of labor, my father would build a bonfire and we would roast corn on the cob in their husks. The corn was from my father’s garden, planted in long arrow-straight rows. I remember the sweet-charred smell of that corn and the warm, wet feel of melted butter on my fingers.

After dinner, I would settle in to read my Trixie Belden book but would lay the book aside to watch and listen to the adults discuss, debate and – finally - loudly argue who was a better president, FDR or Truman, the chances of the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the pennant and the quality of Chevrolets versus Fords. The conversations grew more intense, more animated, swirling around the table, little tornadoes of sound. My father sat at the head of the table, quietly whittling a piece of wood, rubbing his thumb on the surface, smiling, a crooked little grin that turns just the left side of his mouth up. He listened to the debates but stayed outside of them, on the fringe of the noise and the laughter. Even when my mother would demand his opinion, he would just smile and shake his head. 
 
I remember sawdust in his hair, on the backs of his hands, on the top of his shoes.  I remember the smell of wood like an aura around him. Pine. Oak. Maple. But what I remember best and treasure the most is the gift he made for my son.

My son, born with congenital heart defects, suffered a head injury at age thirteen and a subsequent cardiac arrest.  He was resuscitated but was in critical condition in Intensive Care with an intracranial pressure monitor screwed into his head.

His prognosis was poor, we were told. Even if he survived, he would suffer brain damage, “Diffuse cerebral edema,” the doctors said in mournful voices, shaking their heads. The nurses swabbed his shaved scalp, cleaning the skin around the intracranial pressure monitor screw and then patted me gently on the back.

My father refused to visit him in the hospital. Quietly but stubbornly he refused, shaking his head, simply saying he would wait until later to see him.  There might not be a later, I wanted to scream. I didn’t, couldn’t understand. I was angry and hurt by his refusal. It wasn’t until later that I was filled with awe at the faith of my father.

My son, indeed, did recover. The barbaric pressure screw was removed from his head.  His blonde hair began to grow back, stubble covering the scar. The respirator was slowly weaned away. He came home, thin and weak, but alive and alert.  He came home to sleep in the bed my father had made for him.

When he came home, my father came to visit him.

And he brought the most amazing gift, a testimony from my father to my son. While my mother, my husband and I hovered at the bedside of my son, my father had labored in his work shop. He had measured, cut, constructed, sanded and varnished a desk for his ill grandson. Sawdust in his hair and hope in his heart.

A desk of golden oak and a matching chair.

He carried the heavy desk with ease, into the house, smiling, this quiet man in his bib overalls and flannel shirt. He carried it up the steps and into my son’s room and then carried the chair.  He helped my son from the bed to the desk chair and knelt beside him to hold him steady.  My son has blue eyes, the same clear blue as my father’s. They smiled at each other, the same crooked little grin. I then understood why my father would not go to the hospital.  He had better plans, in his workshop defying the prognosis, defying despair, defying grief.

He believed his grandson would be able to sit at that desk.  He turned that belief into a testimony. A desk. A chair.

My father. My hero. A builder of houses, a maker of furniture. A man of faith.

The above was published in My Dad is my Hero anthology. I have also been published in Voices from the Attic (a Carlow University Anthology),Pittsburgh Magazine and the Tribune-Review, I also received an honorable mention from an Atlantic Monthly, fiction contest.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE FINAL EVENT

I read somewhere that hearing is the last sense to go. It’s true because I can still hear. I can’t see.  I can’t open my eyes.  I can’t talk.  So I lay here, hearing.
                When this all started I could still see. The doctor with the gray, bristly moustache, looking worried. The nurses, one red-head, one blonde with her hair pulled up in a pony tail that swished back and forth as she bent to start my IV’s and hook up my monitor. She smelled like soap, minty and clean. I could still smell. And feel. The IV hurt going in.
                “Got an eighteen in the antecube,” said the blonde nurse.
                “Hang dopamine. Get another line.” Doctor talking. Atropine. Epi.
                “Need a 7.5 endo.” Someone is pushing something down my throat. I hear a machine pulsing next to my head.
                “Call a code.” Who said that? I can’t see clearly.  Everything is misty gray. Heavy fog.
                “Charging. Two hundred. Everyone clear.”
                Two hundred what?
                Incredible pain in my chest.  Like lightning, an electric shock.
                “Charging three hundred. Everyone clear.” I can hear that.
                Three hundred what? I can’t see. I can’t smell the soapy smell of the nurse.
                “Charging three sixty. Everyone clear.” I feel nothing.
                Then I hear “Nothing. Time of death, 3:40 pm.”
#
                The deep voice I hear now is Mr. Mortimer. He’s the owner and director. The other voice, higher, is the young man I saw vacuuming the hall carpet while I sat with Mr. Mortimer. 
                I was an event planner.  Back then.  I told Mr. Mortimer that when I planned my own event with him.  We were in his office.  A very sedate office with dark furniture.  Of course, what would you expect in the office of a funeral director?  Wood floor. Cherry?  A nice Persian carpet with blues and greens. Walls a pale, corn silk yellow. A large blue and white Oriental vase in the corner with blue hydrangea that looked real.  They weren’t, though. Some things are real. Some things just look like they are.
                What’s he saying?  The background organ music is faint.  It’s turned down low, real low. I hope it’s not Amazing Grace, for heaven’s sake.  I put Rock of Ages on my list.  Wait! It is Rock of Ages.  He got it right.  He followed my list.
                My list was complete, no detail omitted. What cosmetics to use and I even gave him a supply. Bisque foundation, cream based delicate rouge, pink lip tint. A photograph of me so he could have my hair arranged the way I like it. A creamy long-sleeved silk Ralph Lauren blouse with lace along the neck line and at the wrists. I watched him hang that in a closet. Of course, it was in a monogramed garment bag with my initials for Deborah Olivia Armstrong. A necklace of perfect small seed pearls that have just a tint of pink.  A good event planner never forgets even the smallest detail.  I never did.  Any event I planned was perfect.  I did all types. Twenty-fifth silver anniversary parties. Weddings and receptions. Baby and bridal showers.  My planning was always perfect.  At least on my end. That’s what I said to him that day.
                “Oh?” Mr. Mortimer said, with his eyebrows raised. So I had to tell him what could go wrong at an event.
                “People,” I said. “People can ruin events. Every time. Brides spill red wine on their gowns before the ceremony.  Grooms smash wedding cake into the bride’s face. Oh, there are stories! Like the surprise twenty-fifth silver anniversary party the grown children planned but the parents, the honorees, didn’t show because they were at the lawyer’s getting a divorce.”
                He smiled and nodded as I talked.  He didn’t say anything but I knew he understood.
                He helped me choose a casket.  I didn’t like anything he had in stock so he showed me his catalogue. What a high level catalogue, very impressive.  Burgundy leather, smooth to the touch, with laminated pages.  I chose the Sunset Bronze model with rounded corners and a soft velvet almond interior.  That would be a good background for my silk blouse.
                Of course I paid him for everything. The flowers (white roses with Maidenhair ferns and Baby’s Breath) were already pre-ordered and paid for at the florist right next to the funeral home. I gave Mr. Mortimer the receipt for the flowers as proof of payment.  I own a plot at Allegheny Cemetery on the North Slope, facing the Allegheny River. I gave him a map showing my plot location and a ground’s map. I opted for an angel statue as a head stone; the cemetery had it in storage. I owed it to myself to plan my own final event. That’s why I chose Mr. Mortimer. His reputation was excellent in the community. Event planning every detail.
         What’s he saying? Something about me being an event planner.  I can’t hear every word, wish he would come closer. He’s saying something about people.
                The boy’s voice is louder. “That’s a strange thing to say.  People ruin events?”
                I can’t make out Mr. Mortimer’s answer.
                It must not yet be viewing hours.  I don’t hear any voices except Mr. Mortimer and his assistant.
             They’re coming closer.  Their footsteps are soft on the carpet.
                “Time to lock up,” Mr. Mortimer said.
                Lock up? Already?
                “I’m surprised nobody came to the viewing,” said the assistant.
                The viewing was over? I heard a lock turning with a click.
                Mr. Mortimer must be walking near me, his voice is louder. “I gave her what she wanted. A perfect event.”
               “How so?”
                “I put her death notices in newspapers on the other side of the state.”
                “Why?”
                “So no one would come. She planned a perfect event. I didn’t want it ruined by people.”
                Oh, didn’t I choose him well!
                Their footsteps faded away and I heard a final click of another door being locked.
                There was nothing left to hear.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

SOMETIMES IT'S JUST A PRETZEL SNACK RECIPE

Wisk together:
    One 15 ounce bottle Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil (in popcorn aisle)
    One tablespoon dry dill
    One tablespoon garlic powder
    One package dry Hidden Valley ranch dressing
Pour the above over:
    Four packages butter-flavored twisted pretzel sticks 

Stir every four to six hours until absorbed or put in sealed tupperware container and turn it over every four to six hours till absorbed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

MONEY LAUNDERING

She found, quite by accident, that her old washing machine made money. At first there was an occasional nickel or penny on the bottom of the speckled blue tub when she finished taking out socks and blue jeans. “Strange,” she told herself. “I know I checked the pockets.”
            Then she began to find quarters and, once, after doing a load of bathroom throw rugs, she found two 1974 Kennedy half dollars.
            At first she put the coins on top of the dryer in a chipped ashtray painted with bright green stick-like palm trees with the word Mexico painted around the edge. When that was full she poured them into an old blue Mason jar. They clanged against the glass almost musically. That, too, was soon full and quite heavy.
            From the Mason jar, she transferred them into an empty detergent box on the floor next to the old washing machine. Then she lovingly wiped the top and sides of the machine with a solution of warm water and Murphy’s oil soap. The machine was the bright spot in the corner of the dingy basement.
            The more laundry she did, the more money she found. She began to change bed sheets twice a week and curtains twice a month.  She even made her children change their clothes twice a day.
            Once, as an experiment, she ran the machine through an entire cycle without any laundry in it. All the machine yielded was a small, unfamiliar coin that she finally identified as a British half-pence.
            Into the detergent box it went, also. By now the sides of the box were bulging. She was unable to lift it. So handful by handful, she transferred all the coins into a scrub bucket and covered them with a layer of old dust rags. She pushed the bucket, inch by heavy inch, under the laundry tub and made a mental note to buy another scrub bucket. Then she looked through the house for more laundry to do but there was none.
            So she went next door to visit her widowed neighbor, old Mrs. Brown. She took with her a half dozen raisin oatmeal cookies, Mrs. Brown’s favorite, and stayed a bit for a cup of tea. Earl Gray with lemon. Mrs. Brown looked exceedingly tired and feeble.  When she offered to do the old lady’s laundry, Mrs. Brown was so very grateful.
            That load of laundry yielded a 1924 twenty dollar gold coin. Curious, she took it to a coin deal for evaluation. He told her it had a MS 65 grade and offered  her a large amount of money for it, which she refused.  She also refused any payment from Mrs. Brown when she carried the clean clothes back to her. Mrs. Brown gave her the name of another widow over on Stewart Street who might also appreciate help with her laundry.
            The washing machine labored from morning to night as the number of people who needed help grew longer. The house had an ever present aroma of warm soap, the constant chug-chug of the motor and an underlying rhythmic sound of water swishing back and forth.
            That is, until one very chilly morning, all swishing stopped.  A load of sheets from  Mrs. Martin over on Maple Avenue lay motionless and soggy. The machine had just quit.
            The repairman said it couldn’t be fixed. “It’s too old. They don’t make parts for it any more. Too bad, really” he said. “They were great washers in their day. Don’t make them like that anymore.”
            “Can’t you at least try?” she asked. “I’ll pay you extra.” But he couldn’t.
            She yanked the heavy sheets from the washer, splashing water over her shoes and onto the gray cement floor.  She wrung them out, one by one, as much as she could before throwing them into the dryer.
            It took a long time for the sheets to dry but after she pulled them out several dollar bills lay in the bottom of the dryer.