Took the plunge and joined a writer’s group.

Last night, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., I attended a writer’s meet-up. That I went out at night, drove after dark with my myopic cataract-ridden eyes is evidence of how badly I want to learn this craft.

The event took place in the home of one of the writers,  BonSue.  She opens her house twice a month.  She provides elaborate beverages and snacks.  She served cake, deviled eggs, cheese, crackers, nuts. An entire outdoor refrigerator was stocked with beverages for the guests.

When the meeting began, we were all asked to talk about what we are writing.

I was one of the last to speak.  I felt intimidated when all I had to offer was my blog.  The others were working on sequels to already published works and first novels.  They all sounded so professional, knowledgeable, smarty-pants fancy.

I decided to say, “I am a professional artist. I’ve always wanted to write.  In November I turned sixty-five and decided it was high time I learn how to.”  Then I mentioned the books I’ve been reading and the blog I’ve been writing.

There were eighteen aspiring writers, six of whom had the courage to read and be critiqued.  Reading one’s work must be a bit like dropping your pants in public.  The risk of humiliation abounds.

Each reader made a copy of the pages they intended to submit for critique.  BonSue set a timer for ten minutes, and the author began reading.  We poised pen over pages and jotted our editorial comments as they read their work.

Following the reading, we went around the room and shared our critiques.  I was a bit flat-footed since I didn’t have knowledge of the chapters preceding last night’s readings.

Here is what was submitted:

BonSue–A tightly organized, well-written mystery.  The two protagonists are twins. I like their names.  Justin Tyme and Summer Tyme.  They have a private personal language involving numerical system.  Interesting to note that one thing confusing the listeners was BonSue’s reference to a rocks glass.  Who doesn’t know what that means?  Apparently, I drink too much.

Name forgotten–A memoir about growing up in an abusive home circa 1960. Very well done and compelling.

Another man, the name also forgotten–Sci-Fi.  I have trouble getting into Sci-Fi but learned last evening that it is a timeless genre.  Like vampires.

Don?–a Gothic historical novel placed in 17th Century Wales.  He described a river with such detail it became a character. I liked his stuff. There were suggestions he shorten some of the descriptive passages.

The critiques were gentle and constructive.

BonSue is moving to Belize.  I wonder if the Meet-up will continue?  I hope I’ll crank up the courage to read in front of the group. However, I have no idea what story I have to tell that’s interesting enough to find an audience.  No matter.  It will all fall into place if I plant my ass in the chair and keep on keepin’ on.

For now, I want to journal about my favorite foods.  Bacon is second on the list.  Just after cream cheese and before brownies.

GeePee

Most kids have favorite toys, blankets or dolls they lug around for years.  Eventually, the beloved things become threadbare and filthy, even more treasured with age.

My son Matt had Lucky, a Care Bear.

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I have no idea where Lucky ended up.  But I do know where daughter Mo’s stuffed lovey dog Philly is.   That’s Philly, upper right-hand corner of the photo, in my grandson Tate’s crib.  There are two dogs in the crib.  The other is attached to the pacifier hanging from the baby’s mouth.

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My best guess is the stuffed fox will be Tate’s lovey.  They had their photo taken together every month until Tate’s first birthday. I was visiting when they had their first mugshot done.  Fox appears to have enjoyed the experience a bit more than his baby brother.

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My cherished childhood lovey was GeePee.  She spent the first twenty-five years of life living in a Glen Park Elementary school classroom, where my grandmother had taught.  Hence the name: GP.  In my mind, it was always “GeePee.”

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I must have been about seven when we met.  Our family was visiting my paternal grandfather’s home in Tavares, Florida.

Grandpa and his second wife, Irene, lived on a lake.  The water from their spigots smelled like rotten eggs.  They had a pier, a motorboat, and a nearby beach where long prehistoric looking alligators sunned themselves.  A visit to Grandpa Jay’s was filled with adventure.  Once Grandpa pinched a playing card with a clothespin, drove the pin into the ground so the slim card edge faced me.  Handing me a loaded pistol, he showed me how to sight the gun and said, “See if you can split that card right through the side, Alice.”  It took several shots, but I did it!

On a big sun-porch, Grandma Irene helped my sister and me make crafts.  I remember gluing shells to cardboard covered in black velvet.  It was there on the sun-porch I first encountered GeePee.  She had different hair then.  Her dress wasn’t tattered, and her body wasn’t patched.  Over the years  I loved all those holes into her and hugged her bald.  Mom made her new hair, and repeatedly sewed on “band-aids.”

When Irene saw how I adored GeePee she allowed me to take her home.  For that alone, I revered Grandma Irene.

I later learned Grandma Irene was often a raging bitch.  One year Irene’s sister Mrs. McComb visited.  Mrs. McComb baked, from scratch, heavenly dinner rolls.  Mother asked for the recipe.  For a lifetime Mom complained Mrs. McComb had intentionally changed the recipe so Mom’s rolls would flop.  I guess bitchy ran in the family.

I unearthed the roll instructions from Mom’s old recipe box.  Fun to see her handwriting.  1958–Proof I was six not seven.  We always visited during Easter vacation.  I would have turned seven later that year.  November 28th.  (Memorize the date, please.  FYI:  I like sparkly things. And chocolate. Preferably Fanny May.)

You may want to test this recipe.  Be forewarned, they will probably flop.

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One of my very favorite picture book author/illustrators is Mo Willems.  He wrote the delightful Knuffle Bunny series.

In the first book, baby Trixie loses her lovey, Knuffle Bunny.  She gets really frustrated trying to tell Daddy what happened.  All three books are darling.  You might read them to cheer yourself up after your Ice Box Rolls flop.  Click here for more about Mo!

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Walking a Marathon. A painful, enlightening experience. If you can endure a marathon, you can endure anything.

In the early 90’s three friends and I signed up to walk the Chicago Marathon. The only walkers permitted were required to fundraise for juvenile leukemia research.  I have referenced bits of this experience in my blog post of April, 04. Click here if interested.

Preparing for the marathon meant grueling months of walking mile after painful mile.  Three of us, Gray, Mo and I, would rise before the sun to begin trudging through our neighborhood.  The fourth walker, Carol, usually trained alone.  I asked her how she kept boredom at bay.   She said she recited the prayers repeated when praying the rosary.  I’m not Catholic, so I just looked up what is repeated doing rosary beads.  It seems there are enough entreaties to fill several marathon walks.

When we were training for the Marathon, I was suffering from anemia caused by undiagnosed celiac sprue.  Chronically exhausted, I wasn’t fit to walk a marathon.  Gray, one of the most forthright women I’ve ever known, stated firmly, “Alice if you aren’t able to keep up, do not to expect the rest of us to slow down and assist you.”

The night prior to the Marathon we stayed in the city.  We rose before dawn to begin walking. We marched the first few miles in the dark. Finally, the sun rose over Lake Michigan, gloriously painting the sky crimson, pink and orange.

Shortly thereafter a herd of gazelle-like runners thundered past us.  They had long, lean, muscled legs, minuscule butts, and rippling abs.  I turned to Gray and asked, “If we run, instead of walking, will we look like them?”  She laughed and replied, “Those are the elite runners.  Those athletes run in marathons all over the world.”

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Next passed a group of good runners.  They weren’t as sleek as gazelles, but they were strong, toned, comfortable with their pace.

We were overtaken by many levels of racers that day.  The good were followed by the mediocre.  Eventually, we were confronted with hopefuls vomiting into the gutters.  Taking on a marathon isn’t for sissies.

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The most inspiring runners weren’t runners at all.  They were the wheelchair division.  Men and women with withered legs, propelling themselves ever forward by the strength of their good arms.

We saw them on slight inclines.  The temptation was to help.  But helping would be to diminish them.  They needed to succeed on their own terms, with their own hearts, pushing through the misery, accomplishing it alone.

I so clearly remember one particular wheelchair “runner.”  He had two useless legs, one dwindled arm.  Yet he soldiered on.  He was the picture of courage, determined to push himself over the finish line.

I too needed to cross that finish line without assistance.  Nearing the last mile I remembered Gray’s words,  “Alice if you are unable to keep up, do not to expect the rest of us to slow down for you.” And suddenly I grew astonishing resolve.  I gathered my soul together and willed myself to cross the finish line inches before Gray.

I, like all Marathon finishers crossing the finish line, was wrapped in a sheet of mylar.  A medal was hung around my neck.

In agony, I hobbled to the curb.  There, on the same Chicago corner, draped with mylar, was the man with no legs and only one arm.   He had reached the finish line before I did.  I can picture his slumped shoulders, heaving with sobs.  He accomplished the impossible. With merely one withered arm and a heart full of belief, he crossed the Chicago Marathon finish line.

That withered man didn’t, on the surface, have the skill set to prevail. Yet he did. He did because he believed he could.  Anything can be accomplished if we have faith.

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A blogger well worth reading

I only post personal items Monday-Friday.  I read other writers posts nearly every day.  Yesterday I stumbled across a wonderful, well-written, insightful blog.  You may want to explore her posts.    www.extradrymartini.com

Click here!

 

Positive thinking, Shel Silverstein and my marvelous Book Club.

In March of this year I had a profound, personal experience.  In spite of my willingness to share many intimate life struggles, my March reality will remain private.

The experience moved me so deeply I began my journey of learning how, exactly, the power of positive thinking can be harnessed.  Since March I’ve read several books about how to manifest the life you truly want.  The life I truly want is to be a published author.  My current read is The Circle. Author, Laura Day, says to tell yourself you already ARE the thing you want to be.  State it with conviction.  My statement, “I am a published author.  My life changed when one of my blog posts went viral and was seen by an editor at Simon and Schuster.”

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I am only about halfway through The Circle.  There are lots of things to wrap my brain around, and I still need to do the workbook section.   However, I have to put it aside because my book-club read arrived.

Our book club rule—all members must finish the book or just stay the hell home on book-club night.  I don’t want to stay the hell home.  I love our book-club.  We sit around dining tables, drink wine, share snacks and have the most interesting discussions– sometimes deep, occasionally hilarious, and never about politics.  (Remember, I live in Florida, opinons vary widely.)

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This is our current read.  The author uses the language with such brilliance . I am high-lighting certain passages.  Here are two short ones, “Ribbons of stars swirled like milk.” “…one eye on the horizon, my heart on tiptoe.”   How does a heart stand on tiptoe?  I love the mental picture those words create.  I don’t want to race through this excellent book.   I started reading early and will absorb it carefully.

But for today I have put Circling the Sun aside. There is another project on my desk.  I am coloring in all the illustrations of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  This book is a favorite of mine.  The book, and coloring, are a gift for my seventeen month old grandson, Tate. I’m hoping he will love it as much as Nana does.  Where the Sidewalk Ends is 183 pages long.  I’m on page 115.

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I hope to get this enterprise completed before the kid heads off to college.  Determined to put my nose to the grindstone this afternoon, I decided to continue my  positive thinking learning by turning on YouTube. I stumbled across Oprah Winfrey.  She is the world’s best example of someone who truly manifested  her own destiny.

Even so, I surprised myself by choosing her.  I get her magazine and don’t like it. ( I can hear you asking, “Then why get it, stupid-head?” Answer– I never subscribed so have absolutely no idea why it turns up in our mailbox.)   The articles make me feel like I’m a “fixer-upper”, always making suggestions for how to improve myself.  I spent years struggling to learn to like Alice Katherine Jay.  I don’t want to be made to feel I need repair.

However, Oprah proved to be the ideal person to watch.  She shared the interview that most impressed her as proof that we control our future with our thoughts.  Oprah said, “That conversation was with Jim Carrey, of all people.”  While on her show,  Carrey talked about his early years struggling to become famous.  He said he would drive into the Hollywood Hills, look down at the lights and simply KNOW his rich and famous life was already out there.  It was in the air he was breathing and the moonlight on his head.  It existed and the Universe was moving it toward him.

Carrey, broke, wrote himself a check for ten million dollars, dated it five years into the future, and slid it into his wallet.  He said he carried that check around until it was thin as tissue.   Five years later he made that ten million dollars when he  starred in the movie Dumb and Dumber.  He believed himself into his reality.

I’m going  to manifest my future as published author.  I don’t know what sort of writing will be published.  Maybe I’ll come up with a book of wacky poems, ala Shel Silverstein.  Perhaps a coming of age story?  Whatever my writing future is, it exists right here and now.  And the Universe is rolling it my way.

  I posted the above in the wee small hours.  Early today, in my morning dream, a poem whispered to me.  The image–a line drawing– Tate, seated on my lap. I was reading him this poem— 

“Wibbely Wobbely Weebely Wooooo.  I’m in love! In love with you!

Wibbely Wobbley Weebely Wheee.  Are you in love?  In love with me?

I hope so.”

Going to Church, Newark Delaware in the 50’s

My family attended Newark United Methodist Church every Sunday except the monthly communion Sunday.  Mom and Dad said the communion service was too long.  Personally, I liked the grape juice served in itty bitty plastic cups.   But that is all I liked about church.

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When I was very small Sunday school was kind of fun.  I remember playing  “The Farmer in the Dell” in the church parking lot. Debbie Fieldhouse was in my class.  She taught me how to tie a bow with my hat-string.  The hat-string was a continuous loop, not two individual strings.  It was a blue winter hat with white fake fur trim.

On the Sunday school room wall was a picture of Jesus.  I now think of that guy as “surfer boy Jesus.” He was strawberry blond with blue eyes.

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Can’t you picture him, riding in a Woodie, surfboard on the roof?

As I got older Sunday school began to bore me.  The church sanctuary was on the second floor.  Daddy would hand me change for the donation basket, then he and mother would head upstairs. There was a brass letter slot on the wall into which people could drop their contribution checks or envelopes. I would slip a nickel or dime through the slot, sneak out the front door and take myself down the block to Rhodes Drug Store.

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Once at Rhodes, I’d climb up onto a spinning soda fountain stool.  Using the rest of the money intended as church donation I’d buy a cream cheese sandwich on white bread.  The sandwiches always came with a pickle slice on top.  I never ate those.

The waitress was a very short black woman with the most bowed legs I’ve ever seen.  Mother said it was from rickets.  Keeping an eye on the clock I’d happily work my way through the sandwich and be back in the church lobby by the time my parents came down from the sanctuary.

Following the service, in the vestibule, Daddy handed my sister Marilyn and me our weekly allowance. My family would then cross Main Street to the Newark News shop.  We called it “Newark News Stand” but I see in the photo below that wasn’t the name.  The News Stand was a very narrow store.  Some of the magazines were wrapped in brown paper.  I didn’t know why.  They also sold cigarettes, tobacco, and other smoking stuff.  Everyone smoked then.  My parents smoked Kent cigarettes.  Later they moved on to Tareyton.  I started smoking at sixteen when I swiped Tareytons from their packages.

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Marilyn and I spent our allowance money on comic books.  My favorites were Little Lulu, Betty and Veronica, and Casper.  Marilyn usually chose Mad Magazine.  Mother’s friends disapproved of comic books, but Mom reasoned that it got us to read–which was a good thing.  Both my sister and I continue to be avid readers.

And my sister continues to be an avid church goer.  Me, not so much.  I’m more likely to spend Sunday morning perched on a Starbucks stool.

My parents never knew I skipped church on a weekly basis.  It wasn’t until a few years before mom’s death that I told her.  She was suitably horrified.

Textural Triptych

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Each of these paintings are 72′ tall by 24″ wide.  Mounted on top are three smaller canvases.

After years of decorative residential and commercial painting, I finally hung up my brushes when product design opportunity rolled into my world.   The product design experience was a fantastic one, but eventually travel to China became too hard for this old girl.

I  planned to move on, but struggled with what to move on TO.  I walked, prayed, and dropped it into the hands of my Benevolent Force.

One random day I got a phone call from house painter Gary Monaco.   Years before he had introduced me to a home owner, Karen. That introduction led to years painting in nearly every room of her huge home.

Gary began the call by saying, “I have clients who would like you to paint for them.”  Making the assumption that decorative painting was the request, I replied, “Thanks, Gary, but I’m out of that business.”

Gary then told me his clients didn’t want me to paint on their walls, they wanted canvases to hang on a specific wall in their home.

Thrilled to have opportunity to pitch my work I called the clients, Sam and Ann Wagner, scheduled a day to visit and put together a small portfolio.

I drove to their vast rural farm where an elegant sprawling home was located at the edge of a large pond.  As far as the eye could see there was rolling land topped with lush vegetation.  I felt overwhelmed at the notion of creating original artwork for people who clearly had very discerning tastes.

Clutching my meager portfolio, I took a deep breath and rang the bell.   Ann was home, Sam was not.  She graciously led me to a huge kitchen over-looking the pond.  There, at the granite counter, I nervously showed her my work.  I then asked for opportunity to wander their home and observe the many original paintings.  I needed to get a handle on their preferences in artwork.

After measuring the giant wall, I went home and dug into coming up with lots of feasible options.   Did they want nine canvases,  three rows of three?  One big canvas?  Four in a row?  Four, two rows of two?  A triptych?  And how would they feel about a collage using dried vegetation from their land?

Her response was, “Yes to the triptych.”  I then worked up a pile of triptych possibilities, with suggestions for color direction etc.  At that point Ann said, “You choose.  It all confuses me.”  Wow!  Free reign!

Shortly after, on a clear fall day,  Jim and I met Sam at the farm.  He gave us his rugged all wheel-drive truck.  We drove the bumpy fields gathering mountains of twigs, leaves, corn husks, weeds.   The painting above is what those bits and scraps became.  The metallic streak across the three paintings is gold leaf.

Happily the Wagner’s were delighted with the final result.

I don’t believe this opportunity was an accident.  It was manifested by positive thinking and prayer.  Now on to meditate.  I am excited to see what my Benevolent Force will offer next.

 

 

Pony Club Wanna’ Be

I went to a huge birthday luncheon yesterday.  There must have been thirty women, of whom I knew about five.   I rarely attend big functions because I can’t hear.   I take my response cues from visual indicators when a person speaks to me.

If you smilingly tell me you’re having your head amputated tomorrow, I will grin and respond, “That’s terrific.  Sounds like fun.”

But I like the guest of honor, so I crafted a small gift, filled out a lovely Dollar Tree card and hitched a ride in neighbor Lynda’s fancy new white BMW.

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That’s Lynda in the middle.  Gayle, on the right, has all the red carpet poses when being photographed.  She has tried to teach me.  It involves a lot of twisting hips one way, shoulders another, and crossing legs in a balancing act I’m incapable of.  They were both laughing at my Joe Cocker-like attempts to “Gayle pose”.

By now you might be wondering why I titled this post “Pony Club Wanna’ Be”.

Here’s why:  In an attempt to meet a few strangers seated near me I began asking, “So, what do you do when you aren’t attending birthday luncheons.”  The woman across from me said she rides horses.

Horses!  I was immediately transported to my youth when I so BADLY wanted a horse.  I’d watched both the movie National Velvet and the early 1960’s TV show of the same name.  At one point the TV show offered a colt to the viewer that came up with the best name Colt name.

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I mailed in many name possibilities.  One was Misty,  after Misty of Chincoteague.  Certain I would win, I begged my mother to allow us to house Misty in our backyard.  We lived in a suburban split level on 1/4 acre.  Amazingly, she agreed easily.  In retrospect granting Misty a home was a simple “yes”,  since the odds of my actually manifesting that animal was slim to none.

I didn’t win, but later I had the opportunity to (sort of) have a horse.  One winter friend Ann Purcell’s parents took in two camp horses, animals ridden hard at summer camps and needing foster care for winter.  Ann and I spent hours riding those animals.  Her’s horse was named Party Line, far more spirited than the short, round, brown and white animal I rode.  (name forgotten)  I loved old What’s-His-Name.

Such a delicious experience.  I can still picture looking down the road between my horse’s  ears, watching Party Line’s russet rump and tail swaying.  There was one big hill where Party Line would take off at a gallop. What’s-His-Name and I would race along behind.  I could still hear then, and the sound of thundering hooves was thrilling.

One day in late spring our mother’s gave us permission to cut school and spend the entire day riding.  We rode those animals all the way into Newark, Delaware, and right to our houses.  Yay!  Even though it wasn’t Misty, I finally did get to have a horse in my own backyard!

I’m glad I stepped out of my silent comfort zone and went to yesterday’s party.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect back on that happy horsey experience.

Crow Nazi

We have a nice back-yard bird feeder complete with a squirrel baffle that truly baffles the squirrels.  The feeder attracts loads of colorful feathered beasts, up to and including crows.

I believe the feeder should be an equal opportunity joint–all are welcome to come dine in our yard.

My husband, Jim, sees it differently.  He is a Crow Nazi.  Jim makes it his JOB to watch the feeder and if a crow deigns to approach, Jim hurls a pool ball across the cage.  (Floridians call the screens around their pools “cages”.  They are really just screened in porches, but cage sounds fancy, right?)

The other day I was quietly meditating:  breathing in God, breathing out love.

Crow Nazi took that moment to pitch the largest ball across the pool, thus loudly interrupting my kind, generous love-out breathing.

I breathed out something way less fortunate than love.

Later that day while Jim golfed I called him to say, “Hurry home–crows at the feeder!”  I know it’s wrong to interrupt him at the office, but someone needed to  handle the situation.

Lesson learned, Crow Nazi?  If you monkey with my meditation, I’ll  screw up your backswing.

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That bell on the pole drives the squirrels nuts.  Happily for them, the birds drop loads of seeds to the grass below.

Jim is on the golf course again today.  I just went to the back yard and shouted, “Everyone  welcome!  Come and get it.”  As I type, there is one crow gobbling seed and another perched on top waiting for his turn.

Coffee makes life good

It wasn’t until age who-the-heck knows–somewhere after twenty-five and before sixty–that I embraced coffee.  Now I adore it!

But only iced with (shame on me) full-fat milk and stevia.  I pretend the stevia un-does the whole-milk damage.

Todays breakfast is in a wee teeny glass Jim stole from a bar in Hong Kong while on leave from Viet Nam.

I LOVE this little glass.  Jim maintains he swiped it just for me.  Since I am embracing the “manifest-your-future” thinking I pretend he knew I was–eventually–a part of his life.

It’s cute, right?  For a long time it lived in the garage holding pencils.  I only recently promoted it to kitchen favorite.

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Only about five inches tall.  I wonder if the Imperial Hotel still exists  Project for today:  Figure out if that Hotel is still in business.                                                              Note to self: DO NOT MAKE A RESERVATION.  I’ve had enough visits to China to last a lifetime.  Visiting China was a wonderful life experience.  Happy to have done it. Happy to have it in my rear-view mirror.

I have to amend the “no go to China” thing.  I would LOVE seeing Jim Peng, Maple and Miss Gao again.  They were an enormous gift in my life.