A Year Gone By…..

Amelia Margaret's 1st Birthday

Amelia Margaret’s 1st Birthday

I did promise I wouldn’t use the blog to brag on our granddaughter and I won’t in general. Yesterday was her first birthday and while we will see her next week, it isn’t so much the fact of the birthday happening as it is how very quickly an entire year has passed. For her mom and dad of course, it’s been an adjustment as it always is. Since they don’t live in a very large place, and won’t likely be moving, creative space solutions have been put into play. It will be interesting to see how that works out because walking is imminent.

It’s obviously been an exceptionally busy year for us between Hubby getting more involved with his photography and my work on Mystery of the Last Olympian. All of those commitments unfortunately caused us not to take our October trip to the D.C. area, but we just couldn’t fit everything in. And so, the whole year sped past and here we are with essentially the month of March spoken for and a fair amount of April. A while ago when a dear friend was coming up on her retirement, she expressed concern about how to fill her time. After I stopped laughing, I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem. Within a few months, she was instead asking, “How did I ever find time for work?” For those of us who are products of living longer and healthier, “retirement” is far more a change in what we do rather than big chunks of leisure to fill. Between volunteering and being able to take on work that’s personally satisfying (not necessarily financially rewarding), the days do zip along. That’s one of the reasons I love the C&W song, “Don’t Blink.” If you aren’t familiar with it, look the lyrics up, or listen to it, and the odds are you’ll find yourself nodding along.

What Do You Mean, She Doesn’t Like Me?……

I had an interesting discussion recently and it’s related to previous posts I’ve written about the power of external validation. A number of years ago there was a TV comedy series, “Caroline in the City”. The title character (I don’t recall the actress’s name) was from Wisconsin and thus was often puzzled about the ways of New York. In one particular episode, she discovered a woman had expressed dislike for her and she was dismayed. “What do mean she doesn’t like me? I’m from Wisconsin. We have to be liked!” (Or words to that effect.) Not surprisingly, the episode was about her efforts to win the woman over, which in a comedy meant things went amusingly downhill.

In a slightly more serious vein, it usually is a shock to the emotional system to discover that someone doesn’t like you, and it’s worse when you realize someone may actually loathe you. If you’ve crossed an individual and staked out opposite sides on an issue that’s one thing. But if you can’t pinpoint an incident of disagreement, you may be forced to come to grips with the reality that there are people who simply don’t like you. Why? Who knows? Perhaps you unwittingly offended them. Perhaps you got crossways with a friend of theirs and it’s the old schoolyard issue of, “You can’t be my friend and like her/him, too.” Perhaps you remind the individual of someone they despise and they can’t get past that. It doesn’t really matter because ultimately, there is little you can do if someone chooses to dislike you. Now, there have been a few occasions when someone confessed to having not liked me initially and then changed after actually getting to know me, and that was always an interesting conversation.

Simplistically speaking, part of the need for external validation and wanting to be liked is a primordial defense against the fear of being banished, and for those who embrace Maslow, “Belonging” is listed right above “Safety” in a similar linkage. We are social creatures and for most of us, rejection is tough to take. The phrase, “Well, I don’t care what they think,” may be what one says while covering up the sting, or it may be accurate because there really are people whose opinions will be of no value to you.

Don’t Lose the Old Stories…..

I’ve posted about subject this before, but I noticed a headline that said the last survivor of the USS Arizona passed away a couple of days ago. I’ve forgotten the rate, but just as with my father who was 91 in October, the WW II and Korea veterans are advancing in age and we are losing them. It’s not only veterans, of course, but all of that generation have seen some remarkable changes during their lives. Some have of course written their memoirs and/or been interviewed, but for many, the experiences they lived and things they saw get “pushed aside” for another time. We think there is always time to do this and the next thing we know, it’s too late. A friend of ours is involved in a project where he specifically seeks out veterans and talks to them, although not in a manner to record the stories – more as a way to interact with them.

If you have relatives and friends who fall into this category, try to make the opportunity to find out if there are old letters, scrapbooks, journals/diaries – not to intrude upon their privacy, but to know where the information is. And yes, if you can, find a way to capture the stories if it hasn’t been done already. Not every story, but enough to understand how very much our world has changed in their life span. Those who grew up in rural areas will have had far different experiences than someone in a city. While they may not have walked uphill to school both ways, there is a distinct possibility there were some one-room schoolhouses involved. If there is an attic or basement filled with “stuff”, maybe you can help with a multi-step plan to sort through and organize it. You can only do so much at a time productively, but it can be enjoyable as an “exploration”, too.

A Year Flown Past……

Here it is – New Year’s Eve again and as any of us over the age of let’s say 50 and for certain over 60 are aware, time does have an “acceleration factor” and yes, please forgive me Dr. Einstein. Actually, even younger parents sense it a bit when the tiny baby is suddenly ready for the next size up car seat.

There is a Kenny Chesney song, “Don’t Blink”, and that’s the theme. The singer is watching an interview on TV of a man turning 100 and when asked his advice, he says, “Don’t blink”, and the song goes into the verses about how quickly the major events in your life go by. You can see it at family gatherings if you have them. The once-adolescents that now have their own children, the grandparent who has become the fourth generation and can no longer hoist giggling infants into “airplane swoops”. If the end of the year is about reflection of what has passed and what may be coming in the future, for some of my readers, there have been times of sorrow, and for others immense joy. In some cases, there has been a mix, and that is perhaps as much the reality of most of our lives as anything.

Time does pass at the same speed as it always has (although I still think Leap Year could have been handled in a better way), but it often feels as if it is zooming along. It is nice when we have those moments to sit quietly and enjoy something special, and no, it doesn’t have to be big to be special. In fact, maybe I’ll wander into the backyard with another mug of coffee and watch the sunrise colors this morning. Happy New Year’s Eve to all.

Plans Can Go Awry…..

Fortunately, we drive to Georgia each year to have Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. That meant when a work crisis bubbled up and it became apparent I wasn’t going to be able to go, hubby didn’t want to go without me. At least we didn’t have to cope with the expense of cancelling airline reservations. This happened one other year, and as we did then, we’ll plan a trip up after the first of the year. It’s something that can’t be helped and we actually had two invitations to dinner we had declined since we were going to be out of town. That means all we have to do is whip up the broccoli-rice casserole to take with us. It so happens, that’s one of those dishes my husband makes. It’s kind of interesting.  Bring-a-dish gatherings are common in the military and back when he was a bachelor, he decided to not be the one who always brought chips and dip or grabbed a cheese tray from the store. He specialized in three things – a killer hot chili-cheese dip, a version of Ambrosia, and the broccoli-rice casserole. That pretty much took care of him with whatever the hostess wanted.

The casserole is really pretty simple – one package frozen broccoli, thawed and chopped, 1 jar Cheez Whiz, 1/2 medium onion chopped, 1-2 stalks celery chopped, 1 can cream soup (celery, onion, mushroom, chicken – your choice), 2 cups cooked rice. Salt and pepper to taste – throw in 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes if you like. Mix it all together, spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until top is lightly browned. Easy and delicious, plus it retains heat pretty well.

So, anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Trying Not to Feel Guilty…..

My lack of posts are a direct result of being in a critical phase of working on the new non-fiction book combined with juggling other tasks I’ve postponed – like posting to the blog. Maybe it wasn’t a total coincidence that a post came in yesterday from another site I sometimes follow admonishing us to sometimes step back and not worry about being productive all the time. Yeah, sure, I’ll work on that. In the meantime in the real world, I’ll have another couple of 4:00 a.m. mornings to stay on track.

Setting all that aside, however, my trip to Louisiana was jam-packed and I was able to see a number of friends and relatives. Not everyone, of course, but quite a few. The only culinary goal I missed was catfish. Had I know the one place wasn’t open on Sundays, I would have done catfish for lunch Saturday, but so it goes. I did have an excellent tilapia dish as well as two wonderful fried green tomato appetizers. The regional take is to top them with crawfish tails in some type of sauce and it makes for a great appetizer to share or you can pair something else with it and have all appetizers for a meal. I do that fairly often, although I didn’t during this trip.

The simple truth is the small town where Daddy lives doesn’t have many sit-down restaurants and I’m not certain if they have any yet that serve alcohol. (The tiny town that adjoins them voted alcohol in quite a few years ago and the two restaurants out there are very popular.) We did, however, discover a new Mexican place that took over from the former Bonanza, I think it was. I’m a little surprised the steak place didn’t make it and don’t know what the story was. At any rate, El Jimador, was quite enjoyable. Daddy is not big on cooked pepper and onions and they were completely accommodating about cooking his dish without them. Their tortilla chips and salsa seemed to both be homemade and were delicious in either case.

It’s That Time of Year Again…..

That phrase can apply to all sorts of things. In this case it’s me traveling to Louisiana for Daddy’s birthday. He will be 91 and his Alzheimer’s seems to have stabilized and the medication is working as well as can be expected. I don’t know if them moving into assisted living and therefore reducing significant stress has been a factor, although it probably was to at least some degree. Anyway, I’m not sure what kind of celebration we will have – probably a number of us going out to lunch somewhere then maybe cake in the activities room. I’ll find out when I get there.

I am actually spending an extra day this year because one of my cousins has to fly out to a conference and if I don’t go a day early I will miss her. That’s on my mother’s side of the family. All three of my high school girlfriends will be around even though we have to meet separately due to schedule commitments. As I explained when I emailed, with me coming around only once a year and there always being some question as to the exact date, I can’t expect everyone to hold their calendars open wondering when I will appear. My sister is also coming over for a couple of days from Houston, so that’s nice, too. Since I haven’t been losing weight at the rate I had hoped, I won’t be able to indulge in too many special treats and will restrict myself to one – that’s one Natchitoches Meat Pie. To the best of my knowledge, the only redeeming nutritional aspect to them is protein and the flaky pastry pretty much negates that benefit. They are, however, delicious. I’ll snap a photo before I devour the one I will allow myself. The same will hold true for catfish – okay, not one piece, but one meal.

I’ll post from the road on the days when I have connectivity.

Belated Happy Father’s Day……

First Father's Day With DadI managed to let yesterday slip past and truly meant to post. It was a special Father’s Day since this is Dustin’s first as a dad. Yes, I know I promised not to do a lot of “Proud Grandma” moments and I won’t.

I called my dad who will be ninety-one in October and they’re doing fine all things considered. They moved into assisted living several months ago and he voluntarily gave up driving. For anyone who has been through that struggle, you know what a “gift” that was to us.

Hubby actually worked all day yesterday, but it is prime dive season and so that’s to be expected. Here’s a word about being a stepfather. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to step into a situation when a child is older and Dustin did a nice post on Facebook acknowledging how well our family blended. In fact, it never occurred to people who saw them together that they weren’t biological father and son. And after spending seven years as a single parent I can also relate to the poster that says something along the lines of, “It taking something extra for a mom to be a dad, too”. The reverse is probably true for a single dad filling the role of mom and I can vouch for the fact that trying to raise an opposite sexed child alone brings a few extra challenges. Dustin loved both of his grandfathers, but we didn’t live near either of them and so it was periodic visits rather than frequent involvement. Thankfully, hubby came along before the issue of shaving ever came up not to mention other subjects that I was grateful not to have to deal with. Anyway, even though I’m a day late – here’s a big thanks to all those dads out there who have been a real part of their children’s lives.

Of Mothers and Daughters……

There are trickier things than family dynamics, but if you look at the sheer impact of families, that pretty much shoots to the top of the list of what humans deal with. Setting aside the many permutations of friends and relatives’ relationships, the mother-daughter ones that I develop for my fiction are spread along a spectrum from what will be somewhat of a jaw-dropper in the upcoming Shades of Deception to the fairly idyllic affection shown in the “Small Town” quilting series. Police Detective Bev Henderson loves her mother and is frequently exasperated with her lack of understanding as to why her daughter wanted to be a police officer instead of having a “normal” job. They don’t have all that much in common as adults, but their exchanges are often humorous.

Chris Green, the main character in the spin-off series of Deadly Doubloons, etc., is older and wiser now than when she greatly stressed her parents with teenage rebellion and ultimately eloped with a totally unsuitable boy at age eighteen. I’ve never introduced the readers to her parents, although Chris occasionally reflects about having restored their relationship.

The tragic ones depicted in False Front and Georgina’s Grief spoke to the heart-breaking reality that exists for too many children when the destructive behavior of their mothers (and can be fathers as well) forces the child to assume an adult role or causes so much emotional damage that the baggage they carry into adulthood is difficult to rid themselves of.

Like other aspects of creating characters, this particular relationship can be pivotal in developing a fictional person that readers can relate to, can see in their minds, or as one fan says, “Your books are written so that it’s like watching a movie”. For most writers, our goal is to make the characters either seem genuine or be so much fun that you don’t mind the exaggeration.

And so, for those who do have that wonderful kind of affection between mothers and daughters, that’s great. For those whose life experiences have taken a different turn, remember that you are your own person and one of value.

Not The Beginning of A String…….

I promise that I am not going to do “Proud Grandma” moments as routine posts. This, however, is one of those moments since the arrival of Amelia Margaret did come with an element of humor. The actual due date was March 25, yet everyone who had been through this knows that due dates are not always the most accurate predictions. Notwithstanding those who schedule a delivery, the “on or about” is the best you can do and lots of first babies tend to be a week or two beyond that. Not surprisingly, this week was supposed to be prep for the kids getting all those last tasks taken care of and son had a premiere piece in which he was to be performing on Saturday night, the 14th. Hubby and I both had dual obligations on the 14th that meant we had to be out of the house by 7:00 a.m.; me not to return until after the evening event and hubby to only dash by the house to change clothes and join me for the evening event.

So, as we prepared for the Friday afternoon/evening obligation that we had, we were startled to receive the telephone call that the kids were on the way to meet the doctor at the hospital. Ah, not a serious complication, but moved the timetable up. I kept the cell phone close by and around 9:30 I texted to just say give a call no matter the time. The call came at almost 11:00 p.m., the actual birth at 10:14 p.m. on yes, Friday the 13th. And there goes the preparation, not to mention the not quite able to juggle other schedules and thus Saturday was a bit of a scramble with trying to communicate. At any rate, things did work out, everyone is fine, and Amelia apparently wasn’t the slightest bit concerned with the stir she caused.

Amelia Margaret's Early Arrival

Amelia Margaret’s Early Arrival