Category Archives: Stuff Worth Pondering

New Year Blahs or Rahs?

Many of my friends have been admitting to some end-of-the-year blues which is something I don’t really understand. I happen to adore this week between Christmas and New Years, but I am an admitted — and unrepentent — Pollyanna.

Pol·ly·an·na (pä-lē-ˈa-nə) noun a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything

What can I say? I’m perky!

I love that blank calendar, so hopeful and filled with sparkling possibility. I sit down when it’s quiet and glance back through the year, remembering good times and perhaps bad ones, now with the mottled patina that only comes with time and distance.

Then I take a blank piece of paper and start writing down the things I’d like to see on next year’s calendar. Most of them relate in some way to my writing and publishing work, but there are also trips to plan, people to see, parties to host.

I humbly suggest that if you find yourself singing the blues this week instead of a joyful noise, try this little exercise.

Take a peek at your calendar. Where’d you go this year? Who’d you see? Meet anyone new and fascinating? What inspired you? What did you learn? What did you write? What did you sell? What did you promote? What were your challenges? What were your successes?

Now, grab a blank piece of paper and look forward to the coming year. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to see? What opportunities do you want to pounce on? What will you learn? What will you write? What will you sell? What will you promote? How will you grow?

Now make a plan. Take your pristine calendar and add the things you know you want to do. Use a pencil because this is a working document. Do you want to go to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April? Then block out that time. If you have to save up your pennies then make a plan for that, too.

How many words will you write? How many books will you read? How often will you get together with your friends? How many times will you go skiing/dancing/to the theatre/out to eat/ice skating/to the beach? What will you learn next year? What will you teach? Who will inspire you? Who will you inspire?

Make a plan. Write it on your calendar.

A plan without action is simply wishful thinking. Make a plan.

If a year is too overwhelming, focus on the first quarter of the year. Or a month. But focus. And plan to revisit your calendar before the second quarter or the next month. Dream big. Wish. Plan. Revise as necessary. Add your Big Plan to your weekly to-do list.

Revel in your successes and learn from your mistakes.

Here’s hoping your successes are infinite and your challenges surmountable. I won’t wish you smooth sailing with no challenges because mistakes and challenges help you grow into the person you’re destined to become. Besides, no problems would be boring!

Okay, if that’s too perky and irrepressibly optimistic for you, then I will allow some staring into the abyss. But only for a minute.

Hey … I think I see cookies down there!

How To Wrap a Gift Even If You’re All Thumbs

A couple of years ago, I wrote and posted a tutorial about how to gift wrap. I’m positive it wasn’t prompted by certain behaviors on anyone’s part. Positive.

With all the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Buy Me Stuff Sunday, and Cyber Monday events this weekend, it seems it’s time to revisit the science of Wrapology.

If you’re a bit chagrined about your wrapping abilities, here it is again. Consider it my gift to you. Of course, if you want me to check your work, all you need to do is send me your gorgeously wrapped gifts. I will offer constructive criticism in a timely manner. (In case you’re wondering, piles of banded cash fit me perfectly. As do size 7½ kick-ass boots.)

As if to cement my Wrapology blog today, I also ran across a Better Homes and Gardens site teaching how to make nine beautiful bows.

You might have heard I’m a bit lazy. Plus, when I wrap gifts I tend to do a zillion at once. By the time I get around to adding the ribbon or bows to them, I’m pooped. But these videos make it so simple to add just that perfect final show-offy touch.

Learn how to do this and it will be your wrapping zenith. Your pièce de résistance. Your magnum opus. Your masterwork. Your tour de force. A really cool thing that will make everyone fall to their jealous knees, humbling themselves before the throne of your perfection.

So go forth and impress!

Are you a good wrapper or bad? How often do you go the “shove it in a gift bag and call it good” route? Do you save bow, ribbon and paper? Will this be the year you learn to wrap beautiful gifts?

Skinheads, Hipsters, and Me

My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon so I’ve traveled there quite often, most recently a few weeks ago. Every time I’m there I marvel at their public transportation system. Not just because it’s so vast, accessible and easy, but because everyone uses it.

Because I live and work in the suburbs, I tend to see people who are very similar to me. Even when I go into Denver I drive, so I’m still not surrounded by the extremes of humanity.

But I love going to Portland so I can ride public transportation. All the stereotypes I have of people are tossed aside.

Three examples from my recent trip …

• Four rowdy teens rode a long way at the front of our car on the Max train. They weren’t being aggressive or anything, but were loud, clearly out for a good time that night. One of the more punk-looking ones was talking on his phone at one point, a conversation full of laughter and expletives. At the end of it he said, “I love you, buddy.” As they passed my seat when their stop approached, all four of them, single-file, shot me dazzling, happy smiles and the last one said, with great enthusiasm, “Have a great night!” It makes me smile just to think about it.

• A scary über-tattooed-and-pierced guy sat on the train in seats facing us. Earbuds stuck in tight, he had tuned out to his iPod, which was just fine with me. The less eye contact the better, I thought. As the train filled a bit more, the least hip couple in the universe sat next to him. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, this couple made us look like Lady Gaga and Sean Connery.) Next thing I know, they’re chatting like old friends! Scary UTAP guy has pulled out his earbuds and is willingly giving directions and sharing dining and tourist advice with them.

• On the bus one day we had to wait for an elderly man to get his walker up the ramp. I was annoyed (and a bit ashamed to say it didn’t even occur to me to help him) until a hipster in skinny black jeans and a fedora hopped down to lend him a hand and a smile.

As I watch people on the Max and listen to their conversations, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by my fellow man. It’s also true that sometimes I’m surprised by their drastic and conspicuous body odor, but luckily that doesn’t happen much.

Whenever my kneejerk reactions to people are wrong, I’m reminded about the advice I’ve heard a gazillion times when creating characters in my writing. Nobody is all bad or all good and stereotypes are boring.

Maybe those unhipsters were really double agents on a mission. Or circus lion tamers! Or the inventors of root beer bottle cap candy!

Or what else?

Random Stuff I’m Thankful For As I Go About My Day

We’re all thankful for family and friends and good health, but I tend to overlook the little things in my life that make me happy and grateful each and every day. So here’s my list …

• Kleenex

• people who know how to cut my hair

• air travel

• my car starts every time I ask it to

• paper books, digital books, and the people who write them

• Game Night, especially when we play Scattergories

• Guinness

• readily available food in my particular pyramid – fruits/veggies (with a special shout-out to sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, blueberries and Pink Lady apples), salmon, eggs, avocado, bacon, booze and chocolate

• people who buy my books

• people I don’t even know who say nice things about my books

• clean, tasty tap water

• basement storage for a lifetime of Christmas ornaments and other memorabilia (all with a story to tell), hundreds of boxes of photographic slides and a working projector on which to view them, an extra freezer, and wine by the case(s)

• xeriscape that doubles as zeroscape (I’ll concede this may not be what my neighbors are thankful for)

• plumbing, air conditioning, heat and electricity

• Netflix

• Jon Stewart, Eddie Izzard and Ellen deGeneres

• people I actually know who make me laugh

• libraries

• Nyquil

• newspapers

• newspaper advertisers so said newspapers can stay in business

• YouTube

• touring productions of Broadway musicals

• Facebook

• WordPress so I can proclaim to the world my love of goofy stuff …. like YOU!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s on your list?

A Real Dad Can Teach You To Cry

Today, on this so-easy-even-a-blogger-can-remember date of 11-11-11, my dad turns 81 years old.

Even as a child the irony of his birthday falling on Veterans Day wasn’t lost on me. My dad is one of those über-patriotic guys. Not a loud chest-thumper, always bellowing that America is the greatest nation, but a quiet man who stands a bit taller when a parade flag passes by and isn’t ashamed of the tear that threatens to slip out.

He doesn’t believe wearing a flag pin — and demonizing those who don’t — makes you a true American. But he does believe those who enlist in the military are stronger, braver and better Americans than the rest of us.

One of his greatest disappointments — still — is that he was never able to enlist. Being born in 1930 meant he was too young for WWII and by the time Korea came around, he was married with a couple of kids, so I never grew up in a military household. It was with considerable surprise when first one, then the other of my sons joined the Navy. Suddenly we’ve become a military family.

That makes my dad exceedingly proud. My youngest son happened to be home on leave last year at this time when we had a big blow-out for Dad’s 80th birthday. I told my son the best present he could give his grandpa was to show up in his dress whites.

Dad, of course, dons his kilt for all important occasions. You know, weddings, 80th birthdays, Robbie Burns Day, and when he gets his car serviced.

I’m glad Dad didn’t have his kilt when I graduated from college because I doubt I would have looked this happy.

He, on the other hand, would still be beaming because education is something he values. Even though he can’t quite master his computer, he continues to learn oodles of other stuff by attending classes, reading and traveling.

Among the other great joys in Dad’s life are, in no particular order: dogs, coffee, Ireland, poetry, butcher shops, reciting ‘Ode to a Haggis’ in full Scottish burr, his old Royal typewriter, Garrison Keillor stories, chili cookoffs, Western art, the perfect martini, fishing, Toastmasters, and Norman Rockwell.

He used to give Rockwell presentations to elementary school kids. His favorite illustrations to discuss with them were the ones with kids and the ones that told a story. You know, all of them.

So, today I just wanted to take a minute to give a little shout-out to Dad and to my Navy guys on this Veterans Day 2011. None of them are veterans, but they are patriots. And one of them is a really great Dad who taught me to fish … appreciate music, literature and art … try new and exotic foods … and to cry at parades.

Thanks, Dad. And Happy Birthday.

My Crime-Fighting Continues

Back in February, there was Crime in the Hood.

I haven’t really thought much about it — except on the rare occasion my doorbell rings and freaks me out — until I got a subpoena to appear as a witness at a Motions Hearing.

It was set for last week, so I re-read my blog to refresh my memory, cleared my calendar and ransacked my closet for some big-girl clothes. I was good to go.

I took every wrong turn possible, but eventually found the right parking lot at the Justice Center. I made polite small talk with the security guards even when they had to send me through the full-body scanner twice. Once because of the forgotten pedometer in my pocket; the second for the hidden buckle on my blouse.

They shooed me off to the DAs office where I checked in and waited with a guy who turned out to be another witness on the same case.

Finally, just as I powered up my Kindle, the advocate for the DAs office sequestered us in a large room with comfortable couches. But it wasn’t to wait for the hearing. Instead, she explained that the defendant (or ‘perp,’ as I like to call him because I watched Hill Street Blues) had a warrant out for his arrest because he’d apparently been criming in other ‘hoods too. He had turned himself in the night before so everything came to a screeching halt while all the different jurisdictions share their info and decide how to proceed.

We chatted for a few minutes, she answered our questions and then left us by saying, “This will be a long process.”

Frankly, I was disappointed not to have the hearing as this entire process has been fascinating and enlightening. But at least now I know how to get to the Justice Center. And which blouse to leave at home.

Have you ever been involved in the criminal justice system? Did you find it fascinating and enlightening? Have you ever served on a jury? I’m also disappointed that the only time I’ve ever been called for jury duty was when I was out of the country.

Sew Many Stories

The Singer Sewing Machine Company is having their 160th anniversary and to celebrate, they’re collecting sewing machine stories. Everyone who writes one is entered in a drawing to win a new machine. If you want to add yours, I think you have until December 31, 2011.

My mom told her sewing story …

In 1941, when I was in the 5th grade in a small town in Central Illinois, my mother showed me how to use the Singer treadle machine. I learned how to sew and miss my fingers while concentrating on the treadle action. The next summer, I was enrolled in a 4-H club. We all made dresses to enter in the Champaign County Fair. My dress was a lovely blue with pink flowers. The dress buttoned down the front to the waist. There was a scalloped front where the buttonholes were. It was hard to do and my mother was sort of particular that it be done right. I remember having to rip and redo the scalloped edges, as they had to be turned correctly to make a pretty edge. When we were satisfied that I had done my best, it was entered in the competition. I remember getting a ribbon and having a really good time at the fair. I loved that dress and for the next Christmas I received a pair of knee sox in the same color as the flowers on the dress.

My dad gave Mom a new electric Singer and I learned how to use that. It was much easier than the treadle. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1942 at our Catholic School, we were told to wear something green. I had nothing green, but on the shelves that held all the jars of canned food preserved from our Victory Garden, hung a green and white gingham drape. Mom took that off the shelves and made it into a gathered skirt for the next day. I was so proud of it! Almost like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.

My parents moved the family to Colorado at the end of the war. They sold all their household goods, taking only the things they really wanted to keep. The new electric sewing machine was at the top of the list to make the journey, above family and clothes. I entered St. Mary’s High School as a freshman and had to re-learn how to use the treadle machines in the sewing class. I didn’t do so well.

When my five daughters were old enough, I taught them to love sewing too. I still do a bit of sewing for donations to various organizations. My mother would be so happy to know she was represented on-line.

My sister told hers …

Just this morning I found a photo from 1977. In that photo I’m wearing a new Easter outfit that I made for myself on my new Singer sewing machine. I sewed occasionally when I was growing up, but could never do as well as my mother did. I can’t count the number of outfits she made for me and my sisters. She made my wedding dress and 3 bridesmaids’ dresses.

When my daughter was born, I began making clothes for her. I learned smocking, buttonholes, and how to make pockets. It was such fun, I graduated to making clothes for me: wrap skirts, peasant tops, summer shifts, house robes. When my daughter was 4, she was a flower girl in my sister’s wedding and I made her an ivory eyelet dress and blue eyelet pinafore. (By the way, my sister made her own wedding dress for the event as well.) A few years later my daughter and I joined a living history association that needed authentic 1830-50 period clothing. At that time my son was 18 months old, so I had a lot of help making her prairie dress, apron and bonnet. I think I sewed every seam of that dress (including pockets) at least twice with his help.

My trusty Singer is still chugging along, used now mostly for making stuffed toys and quilted items. Since I only have grandsons, I don’t have any girls to sew for. I wouldn’t trade my machine in for anything. It’s sturdy, solid and does everything I want it to. If I were to win a new machine, it would go to my mother. She still loves to learn new things at age 80 and maybe I’ll get another new outfit from her!

And I told mine …

I stole my mother’s sewing machine. I didn’t mean to and I’m very sorry. But it’s her own fault. When I was a kid she was always busy with her hands — sewing, knitting, crocheting. She could do the most amazing things and made them all look easy. Like daVinci doing a paint-by-number. Blindfolded. I wanted to learn to sew too, so she taught me. With lots of practice, I learned how to do all the basics. But I can’t remember how many times I had to learn the right-sides-together lesson. My seam ripper was my constant companion. And I never quite learned how to match my stripes and plaids very well. I am proud to say, though, that I only had to learn once about running over my finger with the needle.

It’s funny that my mom told the story of her mom coming to the rescue on St Patrick’s Day, because my mom did the same thing for me. The day before the wearin’ o’ the green, I was dismayed to find nothing green in my closet. When I got home from school, there was a green dress laying on my bed. I wore it for one of my school pictures — maybe 4th grade.

I made most of my own clothes all through high school, maybe because my mom made it seem so easy. I’m still grateful I knew how to sew so I could work in fabric stores rather than come home stinking of burger-and-fry grease from a fast food job.

When my daughter was little, I’d create tops and skirts for her from my husband’s shirts. He’d get some grease on his sleeve and I’d whisk it away to my sewing room. I lost track of how many times he’d marvel at the coincidence saying, “I used to have a shirt with that same fabric!”

Alas, I never taught my daughter to sew and if I won a sewing machine, I’d rectify that for her.

I should give it to my mom, however, seeing that I swiped hers. Maybe I should explain that I’m not really a thief. I was noodling over a purse-making project a couple of years ago and asked my mom if I could borrow her machine, since mine had long ago gone to Machine Heaven. (I should add here it was not a Singer!) She kindly allowed me to take hers, since I explained it would only be “for a little while.” What I didn’t explain was my definition of “a little while.” I still have her machine. But don’t feel sorry for her for having such a bandit for a daughter. Okay, feel a little bit sorry for her. Rest assured, however, she was only without a sewing machine very briefly because her husband surprised her with a new one not too long after I stole, er, borrowed hers.

The remarkable thing about Mom teaching me to sew — and why I enjoyed it so much — is that she never yelled. She’s quite zen like that. I am not, which might explain why my daughter does not know how to sew. But I bet I could learn one more thing from my mom.

Do YOU have a sewing story? Have you ever been happy to get a pair of knee socks for Christmas? Should my sister be thwacked with soggy noodles for not sewing for her grandsons?

Make It Pretty

My house is lived in. Less so since my kids have all moved out, but still.

Over the years we’ve accumulated stuff large and small. I have the coffee table my parents bought when I was 10. During summer vacations it hosted marathon games of Rummy 500, which always began at the opening music of “Match Game” with Gene Rayburn and lasted all the way through “Dark Shadows.”

I have a lovely antique oval table that my mom rescued from her mother-in-law’s house. It was a mess, stained with nail polish from a million careless manicures, sporting a warped top. Mom painstakingly refinished it, learning how to fix the warp too, and commissioned my dad to repair one of the legs.  It has beautiful curved legs and ornate designs and it was my job to dust it. How I hated that table. Then it was mine and I made my daughter dust it. How she hated that table.

When my kids were pre-teens I found a gorgeous — and large — farmhouse table. When we put in both leaves, we can seat 10 for dinner — 12 if we use the piano bench. We even did some remodeling to widen the archway in our dining area to accomodate such crowds. I had visions of being the ‘Thanksgiving Mom’ who hosted the out-of-state friends of her college-aged children. Alas, that never happened, as my daughter was one of the out-of-state kids who needed a Thanksgiving Mom of her own and my boys joined the Navy. Don’t feel sorry for me and my farmhouse table, though … we have both hosted a zillion fun events over the years.

And now I have a new piece of furniture — this baker’s rack — but I need some design help with it. We bought it mainly for the wine rack below the brown wooden shelf (surprise!), but there are things I can’t quite make a decision about.

See the two half-circle shelves? See how they’re empty?

That’s because I don’t quite know what to use them for. They’re also a weird size. At their widest points they’re 5″ x 11″. And did I mention they’re half circles?! They’re movable, though … I can use both or just one on any of those four bars across. Or neither.

So here’s my question … what would you do with them? Help me make it pretty! (And yes, my house is purple.)

Let’s Talk About Suicide

My nephew Ben would have turned 26 last week.

To honor his memory, my family is pledging support to the Second Wind Fund of Metro Denver by participating in their annual “Give Youth a Second Wind” Festival at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on September 18. There will be food and great music in addition to a 5k walk or timed run through the neighborhoods surrounding the fairgrounds or a 1 mile walk on the fairgrounds.

The Second Wind Fund began in response to a spate of suicides in Jefferson County, CO during the 2001-2002 school year. It started small but is now the largest suicide prevention event in the nation with thousands of participants every September.

The Festival is a celebratory event. The pain of losing someone to something so preventable never goes away, but with this nonprofit organization’s fundraising and awareness campaign, many kids at risk for suicide have been helped. Maybe someone you know.

Second Wind raises money so at-risk kids can get free counseling … in essence, giving them their second wind.

One out of every four teens has thoughts of suicide and by the time kids are 20, that number increases to 50%. My guess is that everyone reading this has been touched in some way by a suicide. It’s a rock that creates as many ripples as tsunamis.

While it’s too late for Ben to get his second wind, it only takes $480 to get a kid through that dark tunnel back into the light.

Please consider donating to The Ben Team, and if you’d care to join us on September 18, 2011, we’d love to have you come out and show your support.

Also consider forwarding this to your friends as well as sharing it on Facebook. You really never know when someone needs a lifeline tossed to them.

But if you do nothing else, start a conversation with the kids in your life. Give them the information for The Second Wind folks — have them carry it in their wallet; make copies for their friends — and let them know people care and can help.

Will you be one of them?

Thank you so much …


Is The Problem Career Politicians?

I thought it was a good idea then and I think it’s an even better idea now!

Weigh in on the idea of Deliberative Democracy.