If you’re alive, and/or have parents, and/or have children, you should get your hands on a copy of this book.
It includes a ton of research and indispensible advice about the end of life, yours or someone else’s. Katy Butler, the author, is a journalist who leads you with a gentle hand through all phases of aging — questions to ask, issues to think about, places to find more information. It’s honest and unflinching, written in an easy-to-read manner.
I haven’t blogged here since I blogged about my dad’s death in April. I’m pretty sure that’s no coincidence.
I visited him many times while he was on the hospice floor of the hospital. I was lucky enough not to have to deal with any of the details or paperwork, because I have older siblings who thankfully handled all that.
But as I read this book a few months later, I was struck by how lucky we were about some of what happened to Dad (and to us) and how other information would have been really helpful to have known. The author talks about what you can start doing now to prepare for aging, because—surprise—none of us is getting any younger.
She explains how you can find allies in the medical community to help with your goals. If you want to stay in your house, who can help you do that? If you want to move to a facility, how do you find one?
There are sections entitled Disaster-Proofing Daily Life; Knowing Your Medical Rights; The Art of Honest Hope; Understanding the Trajectory of Your Illness; Avoiding the Hospital; Coping with Dementia; Making Good Use of the Time You Have Left; This is What Dying Looks Like; Preparing for a Home Death; and Humanizing a Hospital Death, among so many others.
Each chapter begins with a checklist to review for yourself, or someone you love, to see how the chapter can help in your situation. You’ve given up driving. Your health conditions have changed how you live. Your hair is thinning in familiar places and sprouting in others.
I found every page of this book useful and thought-provoking, and I’ll be buying a copy for each of my kids, with notes—lots of notes—in the margins.
We research major vacations over a long period of time. We make preparations many months in advance, sometimes years, for an upcoming birth or adoption. We start laying the groundwork for our kids’ college in middle school, if we don’t get it done in the preschool years.
Isn’t dying well worthy of at least the same level of preparedness?
How prepared are you to tie up things on this earth? Does this topic freak you out or are you comfortable talking about death?
When the priest said the last rites over my unresponsive dad in hospice Thursday, I was startled to hear this line from John 14:2 … My father’s house has many rooms.
I was also startled to hear the priest call him James when his name was Robert. I’m probably going to hell for interrupting a priest mid-prayer, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Dad finally getting to heaven only to be sent back on a technicality. Not on my watch, baby.
Dad had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks after a fall. He was refusing treatment and only wanted to be made comfortable as he died. We knew the end was near for him. We also knew that’s exactly what he wanted.
I went to see him in his early days of hospice, about an hour away from me. After the first visit, I drove across Colorado Springs toward his house. I wanted to visit there one last time before we had to start making changes, cleaning, sorting, disrupting, erasing it of its Dadness.
The trip from the hospital to his house took me right through my places of memory. After all, I was born in the hospital I’d just left. I could see the school I’d attended in 1st and 2nd grade through his hospice window.
I drove past the tiny house with the huge tree in the front yard, only a stick when Dad bought it. I remembered all the games we played in the backyard; baseball, pickle, horseshoes, tag, hide and seek, and my favorite, Try Not To Fall In The Open, Uncovered Fire Pit. Dad was never a stickler for safety. As a parent myself, I’m horrified at all the times he gave me a hatchet when we were camping and let me whack logs while straddling them. It’s a miracle I still have ankles.
I drove through the neighborhood where we’d lived in two different houses, both of which we’d rented after returning from a few years of living in Casper, Wyoming. At one of them I was tasked with delivering the rent check to our landlords who lived a few doors down. I hated this job because I went to high school with the daughter. She was a senior to my sophomore, probably didn’t even know who I was, but I was so embarrassed by this duty. I got mad at my dad once, announcing that I wouldn’t do it anymore. He calmly took the check from me and delivered it himself, saying, “There’s nothing shameful in paying your bills.” I never made another fuss. Well, not about that.
I remembered his beloved dogs who’d leap up from a dead sleep when they heard his car about a mile away, waiting in the doorway, tails going 90mph, exploding with joy when he stepped into the house.
I wonder if Dad felt as I did, entering our houses. No matter what had happened that day, when I got home and closed the door behind me, I was safe. Nothing bad ever happened here. It was King’s X. Home free. I made it through another exhausting and drama-filled day of school and could finally remove my mask and let down my guard.
I thought about all the kitchen tables in all those houses, no matter how big, no matter how small, no matter the city. We gathered, eating simple but delicious home-cooked meals, and stayed long after our plates were empty, engrossed in long, lively conversations, often concocted by Dad. He’d lob random topics for discussion — cows are better than pigs for society … Shakespeare didn’t write those plays … there’s no good music anymore … women shouldn’t drive. As God is my witness, I was a full-grown adult before I realized he didn’t really believe cows were better than pigs or that women shouldn’t drive. It was just his way to get us to think, choose a position and defend it. He was a grand poobah Toastmaster from early on, and he gently forced those lessons on us. I went through a teenage phase where I could barely speak because when I did, he’d hold up fingers to count my “ums” or “y’knows.” Devastatingly effective.
I drove past the site of my first job, where Dad would pick me up after we closed at 9pm. I was learning to drive and he’d have me drive home. Once, I drove all the way without my lights on, Dad sitting calmly next to me, waiting for me to realize. When I pulled into the driveway, completely clueless, he said, “Pretty dark out. I wonder why they don’t make some sort of apparatus on cars that can light your way in the dark.”
I passed streets where so many of my friends lived, thinking about the countless times Dad picked me up when I called him to come get me. No questions asked. If I called, he was there. I wonder now if I ever really thanked him for all the times he did my bidding like that. Probably not.
He told me once that whenever he got those weird hang-up calls in the middle of the night, he always thought it was one of us needing him. Forget the fact we were all adults with families of our own. I’d laughed and said, “I live in Colorado. What would I need from you in Arizona in the middle of the night?” He shrugged. “I dunno. But I always answer.”
And he always did.
I hope he knew I was grateful for the little things as well as the big things. Those rides, those backyard games of pickle, those dinner conversations. Encouraging me to go to college when he didn’t understand the process or have the money. Being there for dinner every night. Knocking nurses out of his way to reach me when I was crying from the anesthetic at the oral surgeon, despite his lifelong fear of dentists. All he knew was that I was unhappy and he needed to make sure I was okay.
I can’t remember ever specifically saying thank you, but maybe I did in Father’s Day cards, or those long, long conversations we’d have when I went to visit him in Arizona after he retired. Or maybe he just knew, like fathers do.
My father’s house has many rooms.
I walked inside, assaulted by the cheap cigar aroma that permeated everything, right down to my mitochondria. After I die, and they’re doing an autopsy on me, the coroner and his assistant will have this conversation.
Coroner: Do you smell that? What is it?
Assistant: Grape flavored cigarillos.
Assistant: Yes. A tasty and unusual smoke. Sixty for the low, low price of $29.95. They were only sold to an old man in Colorado. He used them to torture his children.
Standing in the center of the living room, it was hard to realize he wouldn’t ever again sit in his recliner in the corner, dropping ashes into the plastic trashcan next to it. He was consistently nonplussed about setting it on fire, which happened more than once.
Dad lived in Prescott, AZ for many years, volunteering as a docent at the Phippen Art Museum, where he collected western art and schmoozed with the artists. It didn’t matter if the artists were famous or not; if he liked an artist’s style, he’d buy their art and champion them. On his walls hung all of his art, much of it in the living room. Forget thoughtful placement of these paintings — if there was space on his walls, it hung.
My father’s house has many rooms.
The kitchen. More art. His huge dry erase board where he noted Toastmaster meetings, outings with his friends and family, concert tickets. I noticed that even though it was March, it still showed October events, which broke my heart, this diminished life he was living. The corkboard held reminders for dentist and doctor appointments, long past, for which he most assuredly did not present himself. Cookbooks that he rarely cooked from but read as if they were the deepest, most moving literature. The big glass bowl in the center of his table, a repository for restaurant coupons and reviews clipped from the newspaper, notes to himself, and oddly, a large vintage photo of his father. Whenever anyone was visiting within spitting distance of lunch or dinner time, he’d fish out the coupons and ask, “Where are we going?” while calling out the names of restaurants and the deal they were offering.
This is where the cabinet fell off the wall one day, crashing down and spewing glasses, vases, and coffee cups all the way across the kitchen.
He told me about it on the phone one day.
Me: Wow, Dad. Good thing it was during the day instead of the middle of the night. What did you do?
Dad: Waited for the housecleaner to clean it up.
Me: He happened to be there?
Dad: No. Came on Friday.
Me: I thought you said this happened Tuesday.
Dad, annoyed: What?
I wandered into the spare room where I’d spent many a night visiting him. I passed his collection of horny toad art above the table where his gallon can of wood stain lived and thrived for at least three years. Maybe it was yet another art installation. If art is meant to make you ask questions, then it most certainly was.
I stuck my head into the guest bathroom to pay homage to his flock of shampoos from many years of his travels. God forbid you try and use one, though. No. Better to remain dirty-haired than to get The Look. *shudders just thinking about it*
The guest room also houses his record albums, cassette tapes, CDs, and DVDs. He has all the movies you’d expect an 88-year-old man to have, but also a big box set of “Friends” episodes. Go figure.
Dad loved musicals, and I suspect that’s why I do, too. I remember in about 1970 he took us to one of the big theaters in town to see the movie musical “Scrooge.” I still watch it every Christmas. The first stage show I saw was also courtesy of my dad. “1776” at the Air Force Academy. I was hooked.
Dad’s favorite show is “Phantom of the Opera” which is probably my least favorite show. So screechy. We argued about it constantly. But he told me how much he identified with the Phantom, always feeling a bit out-of-place. He told me how nervous he was around women in high school, which I found completely endearing. I also thought it was crazy, because I’ve seen him chat up everybody everywhere with an ease that would make George Clooney jealous. But it’s hard to shed those imprinted ideas of ourselves, I guess.
Dad went to Ireland a lot … A LOT … and it seemed he always ran into this one girl — Shirley at Bunratty Castle. They serve a medieval dinner there with madrigal singers and such, and he absolutely fell in love with her. I was with him on one of these trips and he pointed her out to me. I nudged him to go say hi to her and it might have been the one and only time I saw him blush. Two of my sisters traveled with him another time when his knees wouldn’t let him go up the stairs of the castle. They saw Shirley and she came down to say hello to my father. I’m sure it made him blush for three weeks straight.
Pictures do not do his office justice. Dad had a lot of stuff, but he was organized about it. His books organized by colored sticker; all his Ireland (green) and Scotland (orange) travel books in one area, for instance, on shelves made of sturdy, practical, unadorned and unpretentious bricks and boards. His file cabinet jammed with his speeches and stories. His closet with Santa suits he donned for office parties and children’s organizations. His typewriter at the ready, much more friendly and useful than the computer whose only purpose was to infuriate him. Everywhere you look are trophies, awards and accolades from a life full of accomplishment and effort.
As western art covered the living and dining areas, family photos covered the walls of his bedroom. He loved his family fiercely, but privately. No gushing for him. Just the rock solid notion that we were his and he was ours.
Everywhere my glance landed around the house, I saw my dad. His personality, his desires, his accomplishments, and yes, his cigar seeped into every corner, every fiber, every surface.
My father’s house has many rooms.
I’m the 7th of 8 kids. Dad did his best to give us each our own rooms whenever possible in the various houses we lived in. Problem was, he wasn’t very handy. He created a warren of rickety, makeshift walls from cheap wood paneling in several basements I can remember. I suspect the subsequent owners of those houses dismantled everything before letting their own children inside, disposing of what they probably surmised was some sort of tenement hovel for ill-clad and ill-treated house elves. But no. It was just our bedrooms. Made by our Dad. Never with a door, though, because hinges are hard.
My father’s house has many rooms.
Grief is an interesting phenomenon. Dad’s death was not unexpected and not unwelcomed. He was tired of living. Everything hurt. Everything was difficult. His life had caved in on itself and he was done.
Despite this, I burst into great heaving sobs yesterday when I realized he’d never see the dedication to him in the new series of mysteries I was writing set in the world of crossword puzzles. I knew as soon as I had the idea that these would be dedicated to him, an avid cruciverbalist who didn’t believe a puzzle was solved until it was solved in ink. When I finally made the leap from pencil to pen, he never said so, but I’m sure I went up a couple of notches in his esteem.
But in the middle of these great heaving sobs I started to laugh because Dad would never have read my crossword puzzle mysteries anyway. “I don’t read fiction,” he’d say with a shrug.
When he was in the hospital, my siblings and I each tried to come up with two words to describe him. Mine were “stubborn and that-treat-that-has-the-hard-cookie-on-the-bottom-and-that-gooey-marshmallow-center-and-the-crunchy-chocolate-coating-on-top.”
His time in the hospital (his hospice was in the hospital, not at home) was frustrating for him. We kept telling him he could go, there was no unfinished business here, we loved him and he was free to go on his next adventure. One time he opened his eyes, glared at me and said, “Do you think I’m not trying?”
But as frustrating as it all was, he was still hilarious. My husband and son brought a bottle of very expensive whiskey, a recreation of a long-lost recipe, and glasses to share one final shot with him. He accepted his glass, looked my husband in the eye and said, “I’m DYING here and you bring me a BLEND??”
There’s got to be a better way to die, to honor these brave and marvelous people in our lives. Watching them fade away, often in pain, is not it.
Some people will disagree with me, believing that every minute on earth is precious, and that’s fine, but I am not one of them.
He was so excited when Colorado passed assisted suicide legislation, but he couldn’t take advantage of it. Apparently, untreated diabetes is not on the approved list of terminal illnesses. Go figure.
If Dad could have sat down with the legislators, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been long before they’d see things his way because he touched everyone he met. His housecleaner told me, “It was a pleasure and a blessing to have known him. I so enjoyed our conversations.” His travel agent said, “I fell for him right away. He was so unique and I appreciated him.” His hospice nurse told us she never cries on the job, but she cried over the loss of our dad.
I wish you could have met him. He’d have loved meeting you.
You were once my one companion
You were all that mattered
You were once a friend and father
Then my world was shattered
Wishing you were somehow here again
Wishing you were somehow near
Sometimes it seemed if I just dreamed
Somehow you would be here
Wishing I could hear your voice again
Knowing that I never would
Dreaming of you won’t help me to do
All that you dreamed I could
Passing bells and sculpted angels
Cold and monumental
Seem for you the wrong companions
You were warm and gentle
Too many years
Fighting back tears
Help me say goodbye
in domo Patris mei mansiones multae sunt si quo minus dixissem vobis quia vado parare vobis locum
in my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you
Musicals make me swoon with joy at the dance numbers. Those flying feet, the percussion, the precision. I wanted to do it so bad.
As a kid, though, I don’t remember even asking if I could take lessons. Maybe I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Maybe I knew there was no money for that. Or maybe I was afraid to find out I was no good at it and would never be another Shirley Temple.
But I’m old now, and have my own money and a car to get myself to lessons. I also try to do things that scare me these days.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Ebenezer Scrooge, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”
In early summer of 2016, I was at a party and a friend of mine mentioned that she had been taking beginning tap lessons at our local arts center. I perked up immediately. The more she talked, and the more I drank, the more eager I became.
I bought some black lace-up taps shoes and registered for the next 6-week session. I wasn’t very good and the class wasn’t really a start-at-the-beginning kinda thing. The same people (mostly middle-aged women like me) just kept signing up and so the instructor just moved ’em all along and tried to drag the rest of us newbies with them.
The few sessions I took were hella fun, though, and I learned lots of basic steps. We did some routines that I could mostly follow along with, as long as I stood in the back where I could see someone who could actually remember all the steps. After a time, I even managed a passable time step!
But in the autumn, I started having weird pains in my back, which, long story short, turned out to be that pesky tumor in my spine. I went under the knife almost exactly two years ago today.
Cut to ”” I can say that because I watch movies ”” a couple of weeks ago. I’m still feeling the effects of surgery, which mainly manifests as numbness in my left leg. I thought it would be gone by now (heck, I thought it would be gone about ten minutes after surgery because I’m delusional like that!), but it’s not. So I thought, “Screw it. That ghost is right. Time IS short.”
The arts center still offers adult tap lessons, but they are at a completely inconvenient time for me, so I started searching for online resources. Lo and behold, I found one!
For the cost of two sessions at the arts center, I bought this online tutorial package. I can do the lessons in my basement whenever it works for me and go back over the stuff I find difficult.
There’s also a Facebook group for the subscribers of the class and it’s inspiring and encouraging to see the videos they post, and to hear their stories.
So far, I’ve only been doing the warm-up, which I can alllllmost do ”” *shakes fist at paradiddles* ”” and the first lesson, which was a breeze up until the end. And then the delightfully optimistic Aussie instructor told me to go faster. Which is hilarious. Partly because I’m not that graceful, partly because my numb foot doesn’t always do what I say, and partly because my balance is iffy sometimes.
But guess what? I’m tapping! And it’s fun. Maybe there will be videos of my progress, yanno, when I progress!
What have you always wanted to do? What’s stopping you? Can you tap dance? Any tips to help me speed up?
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly resilient person. I mean, it’s not one of the top ten words I’d use in one of those job interview questions, “describe your strengths.”
To me, resiliency means rolling with the punches, landing on your feet, changing gears when necessary.
But I like order. Outlines. Lists. Calendars. Plans. Itineraries. Knowing, for example, on Sunday ”” tomorrow ”” I’m going to be on my way to Bucharest to begin our 26-day Danube River cruise, bracketed with a few days at the beginning in Transylvania and a few days in Amsterdam at the end.
Except that on Thursday ”” two days ago ”” they cancelled it due to no water in the Danube. Who knew the river was the most important thing for a river cruise? I’d been convinced it was the free booze on board.
Thursday evening I was honored to sign books at the Mountain and Plains Independent Booksellers Association convention. Everything was still up in the air while I was there. On Wednesday I had bought our nonrefundable tickets to tour the Anne Frank House. This book was directly across from me, mocking me. The lovely author signing next to me saw me take this photo and misunderstood, offering to take a pic of me signing books, so in a lull between traffic, I explained what had happened and why I was taking that particular picture. She gasped and said, “That’s the saddest story ever! I nodded at the Anne Frank book and said, “Well, maybe not the saddest.”
I read the cancellation email that morning while my husband was getting ready to go to work so we were able to debrief somewhat. Stunned, we made a weird tentative plan to see if we could step into some other tour going, well, anywhere. I mean, we’d spent months organizing dogsitters and arranging to be gone from work. Surely that couldn’t have been all for naught!
After a few hours of checking and refreshing my email obsessively, the tour person finally emailed and told me she found one going to southern Spain, Portugal, and Morocco over the same dates. Nice, surely, but not on my bucket list.
While obsessively and frantically googling things about the Danube River, I stumbled on this. If only we’d known, we could have booked our cruise for Octo”” Hey! Wait.
Our travel agent scrambled to put together an alternative itinerary for us, using the same flights and general areas along the Danube. But that wasn’t what we wanted either. We wanted other people to be in charge for a few weeks, so we told her no thank you to this also.
We both felt utter disbelief. I had expected we might need to portage around some sections of the river due to low water, but complete cancellation wasn’t even on my radar.
All day it was an odd combination of mourning as well as a little bit of relief. Twenty-six days is a long time to depend on others to care for quirky little Nala. Also, we own a small print shop and out of the blue two weeks ago, one of our employees quit, leaving two perfectly capable employees to do the work of four. And all of a sudden, a ton of unexpected work walked in the door, a small part of which would keep four people very busy.
Aren’t these the saddest luggage tags ever?? All dressed up and nowhere to go.
Now, I’m going to stop my sad tale of woe here, lest you think I’m whining, because I’m not, not really. Yes, this was a disruption. Yes, we’ve been looking forward to this trip since summer of 2017 when we booked it. Yes, I’ve enjoyed saying, “Oh, I wish I could do [that thing you invited me to], but I’ll be in [Vienna/Bucharest/Prague/other exotic locale] that night.”
I was looking forward to being out of the country before and during the election. I wanted to send my daughter a birthday card from Romania or someplace cool. I wanted to turn off my brain and have people do and think for me for a few weeks. I wanted to work on notes for my next books while gliding by castles and Old World charm.
But the drought in Europe doesn’t seem to care about any of that.
This is truly the first worldiest of first world problems. Oh no … our 26-day Danube River cruise was cancelled and I got all my money back plus some travel vouchers when we rebook! And how awful … I had to spend Saturday morning creating a 10-day replacement vacation to the Oregon coast where we get to stay in a lighthouse, visit with our daughter and SIL, and spend a few days at an oceanfront resort! Woe is me, how will I ever cope??
We didn’t have much choice but to make lemonade out of this climate change fiasco.
Or did we?
At least 200 other people, just on our boat, got that same cancellation email. How did they react? Did any of them scream and yell at the poor woman who had to sign her name to it? Did any of them faint and need smelling salts like delicate women of yore? Were there threats of lawsuits? Clenching of fists? Rending of garments?
Or was there resilience? Are there 200 alternative itineraries whirling in motion now?
I mentioned that we booked this trip in July of 2017. That was about six months after the tumor was removed from my spine and I’d relearned how to walk.
Maybe I’m more resilient than I realize.
So tomorrow, the first day of our non-vacation, we’re making mimosas with a bottle of champagne I found shoved in the back of the liquor cabinet when I’d stocked it for my house and dog sitters. We’ll toast what might have been, we’ll await the rebooking of our cruise for sometime in 2019, and we’ll thank our lucky stars that we weren’t already in Europe when they cancelled the cruise.
The only question now is … how resilient are inscriptions in books to be donated to the boat’s library?
I read an article a while back by a guy whose wife went on a business trip, leaving him home alone with his teenager. Since it was summer vacation, he decided to make a list of Six Movies All Parents Should Watch With Their Teens, “essential viewing because of their cultural and historical relevance.”
My husband and I tried to make our kids culturally literate in all aspects of their lives. They’ve had all the cool music seep into their subconscious ”” on vinyl, no less ”” Sinatra, Queen, Boston, Earth Wind and Fire, Tom Lehrer, Billie Holiday, Pat Benatar, Green Day, and The Beatles, to mention just a few renowned troubadours held in the highest esteem in BeckyLand. They learned how to swing dance. They’ve seen as many Broadway shows in person as we could afford to attend, and the rest on DVD and video. They’ve eaten all kinds of food from when they were tiny. They’ve read widely and deeply in many genres. We traveled with them as often as we could. We watched with them the popular TV shows of the day, which was, admittedly, much easier in the 1990s and 2000s when there were fewer channels.
I will say, the day they laughed at the second or third layer joke in The Simpsons was a proud day for me. Not ashamed to say I wiped a wee tear.
So here is the list that guy proposed:
All the President’s Men
To Kill A Mockingbird
RBG (the new biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg which I haven’t see yet)
I don’t necessarily disagree with any of those, and his covers the historical portion of cultural literacy a bit better than mine, but here’s my list:
The Princess Bride
True Grit (John Wayne version)
Sleepless in Seattle
The King & I … or 1776 …. or The Sound of Music … or Camelot
Stand By Me … or The Sandlot
So, what would be on your list? Keep in mind we’re talking about young teenagers becoming culturally literate here. (Which is why I had to leave off one of my all-time faves, Shawn of the Dead. Such great, gory zombie fun! But probably not for tykes.)
I recently hosted a big party with a large invitation list. It has caused me extraordinary curiosity about how people manage their calendars and other household paperwork.
Here’s the sitch … I’ve taken it upon myself to become an advocate, to a very small degree, for foster children. I’m pestering my friends for donations and this party was a fun way to gather backpacks filled with items kids might need when they’re suddenly whisked away from their homes. They go to school one day, only to be picked up mid-day by social services, perhaps never seeing their home or their stuff again. Or they get yanked from their homes with everything they own crammed in a plastic garbage bag.
This is unacceptable to me. Hence, the party. I gave everyone the particulars, and included a shopping wish list for the items to fill the backpacks.
Because of that, I thought it would be easier for people to have a paper invitation … party particulars on the front, wish list on the back.
But I’ve come to find out I’m quite the dinosaur in the way I manage my household. I am by no means a technophobe. I mean, I send and respond to e-vites, I maintain my website and blog, I’ve made Facebook my biyutch, I manage several different email accounts with several different providers, I read and have formatted ebooks, I text like a pro (although sometimes I have to squint), and I set up a GoFundMe for cash donations for the backpacks, for instance.
But I also send and receive mail through the US Postal Service.
So I sent these party invitations in the mail, and only one came back with a bad address. I’d been collecting addresses from people for a couple of months, knowing I was going to be doing this event. They willingly gave me their home addresses for what I referred to as my Party Invitation Database.
I asked for an RSVP because, duh … food. Almost half the people never responded at all, and many didn’t respond until I prompted them with an email.
And then I started getting messages asking me to re-send the info because they couldn’t find it.
I happily sent it, of course, but was a bit flummoxed. At my house, when I get an invitation to something, whether on paper or electronically, I read it. If it sounds like something I want to do, I check the calendar hanging on my kitchen wall. If I’m free, I write it in and RSVP to the host. If there are any details I need to refer back to, I poke the invitation on the nail that holds my calendar. If I’m not free or don’t want to go, I send my regrets to the host. All within a day or two of getting the invitation. Sometimes, I put the invitation in the place where I keep my bills, where I’m sure to see it every week or so.
I don’t need any judgy comments about my undying love for the low-tech paper and pencil, and I don’t mean to be judgy about people who completely eschew their simple elegance, but I reserve the right to give you a side-eye as necessary.
I will, however, harshly judge people who don’t RSVP to a party. Is there any reason for that except extreme rudeness? And seriously, I’m asking. I don’t want to think poorly about people, especially my friends!
But I’ve really gotta know … what do you do when you get invitations or other household paperwork that needs action taken upon it somehow?
You can comment here, mail me, fax, send a telegram, attach your wee note to a carrier pigeon, or use semaphore. You could even call me on my rotary-dial landline. But please, enlighten me as to how you do this.
Did you know that foster kids often have to carry all their belongings in garbage bags? And that when they enter the system it’s almost always abrupt? Sometimes they’re picked up directly from school and they never see their home or their stuff again. Can you imagine?
The image of these kids toting their possessions in black plastic bags haunts me.
These days I feel helpless, and a bit hopeless, in a million different ways. The problems of the world are too overwhelming. The solutions too elusive. The outcomes too critical.
But these kids. And their garbage bags. That’s a problem I realized I could help fix, at least for a few of them.
A little legwork connected me with a couple of organizations in Colorado, where I live, as well as a national group. They’ve become my liaisons between donations and the caseworkers who interact with the kids. I learned that a backpack with just a few items made a world of difference to these kids.
I’ve started a GoFundMe page to raise money and I’m having a party toward the end of July to collect up backpacks and items these foster kids need when they enter the system.
I’ve asked guests to bring backpacks and/or items from the wish list. The party is just a fun, family-oriented celebration with a taco bar, tournaments in giant-sized team Scrabble, bean bag toss, men vs women trivia, and more. Then after the party, I’ll use the GoFundMe donations to supplement the items and backpacks.
Filling a backpack for a newly displaced foster kid is not overwhelming or elusive, like most issues in the world these days. It’s something I can do. And you can do. It won’t solve the problems that foster kids face, but it will make it easier for them to muddle through those early days with a new pair of pajamas, a toothbrush, a book, and a toy.
We can’t do everything, but we can do something.
Please share this and the GoFundMe page and let’s see how many foster kids we can help.
I plan to make this an annual event, but I think I need a better name for this party. Comment with your entry, and if I think it’s the best, I’ll donate $50 in your name to the GoFundMe page AND send a signed copy of my book FICTION CAN BE MURDER to anyone you want.
Since I wanted to get your opinion on cozies today, I thought I’d bribe you a bit with pics of Nala, my cozy cuddlebug. (See what I did there?)
There are a lot of colors in the “Mystery” rainbow: cozies, legal and medical thrillers, police procedurals, suspense, romantic suspense, historicals, private eyes, noir, capers … and more!
And don’t forget the subgenres! Just under the “cozy” umbrella there are crafting cozies, cupcake cozies, cat cozies, hobby cozies, etc, etc, etc. There are even some stay-at-home-dad cozies.
Most readers read across the spectrum to some degree, but writers tend to stick with one genre.
I’ve always told people I write cozies because my definition is that they have an amateur sleuth, are usually funny or light-hearted, not a lot of violence or sex, and usually set in a small town. But I was at a party recently and a friend told me about a controversy she’d been following about readers giving one-star reviews to cozies that don’t follow the reader’s “rules,” whether that’s absolutely no cursing, or that cozies must have a recipe, or whatever. They’ll turn up their noses and slam the author for “calling their book a cozy when it’s clearly a traditional. Harrumph.”
Now, I don’t mind a well-reasoned negative review (well, I do, but that’s a conversation for my therapist) but those arbitrary and angry 1-stars bring down an authors rating, causing all sorts of problems for their career.
And when I stumble across the phrase “traditional mystery,” I’m stumped. How is that different from a cozy?
I don’t think anyone would argue that Agatha Christie is the Queen of the Traditional Mystery, but look at the Miss Marple books. She ticks all my “cozy” boxes.
But Writing World separates “cozies” and “amateur sleuths” into two distinct genres.
I decided, with FICTION CAN BE MURDER, my new perhaps-cozy-perhaps-traditional-perhaps-amateur-sleuth-but-definitely-not-police-procedural mystery coming out soon, I needed a definitive answer.
So I started asking people, beginning with a Facebook group I recently joined called A Cozy Experience Online Cozy Mystery Book Club. With a name like that, they will know!
I asked them how they defined cozies. Here are some of the insightful answers I got:
I define a cozy as a “soft” mystery with no blood curdling scenes and no cursing in a homey setting where only one or maybe two bullying, egotistical jerks live.
I don’t like any cursing in my cozys, nor do I like any sexual activity, implied or otherwise. To me traditional mysteries and cozys are entirely different entities. Cozys the murder occurs quietly off scene, mysteries that’s not always the case. I expect a mystery to be a little more graphic but not necessarily as gruesome as a thriller.
Hm, I’m wondering how I’d categorize series like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, or Diane Kelly’s “Death, Taxes, and…” series, both of which I love and which fit the bill for most of the cozy check points (humor, young single female protagonist, light on gore or violence or criminal psych study, and justice is always served – but both series can be more graphic when it comes to language & sex (neither of which bother me at all).
Mild cursing is fine, eg “gosh darn”or “shoot.” And I am all for romance in cozies though nothing too explicit, I’m there for the mystery not the sex. Also I am really really really getting tired of love triangles in cozies. A love triangle is NOT cozy. Sorry for the shouting. [This comment made me laugh!]
I always think of a cozy as a story that happens to have a murder involved but it’s really more about the protagonist’s life. Also in a cozy mystery the protagonist’s hobby or career are as important, if not more important than the murder. I don’t mind cursing, especially if it fits the character. And I don’t mind the sex if it drives the story.
A cozy mystery takes me to a new place, introduces me to new people, and tosses in a murder or two or three.
A cozy is also supposed to have an amateur detective (a regular person like you or me) as the main character. Some books are called cozies but are really just mysteries or maybe humorous mysteries. I’m not picky though, I read them all.
I enjoy cozies. I do not enjoy graphic violence or really twisted characters which often appear in mysteries other than cozies. I don’t want to feel “sick” when I read. Mild cursing is not a problem for me, however, I do sometimes find some cozies “too sweet” and it gets old.
I would say Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are almost the ideal cozies. Don’t see the violence. Don’t see the sex. Figuring out the mystery is done by brain power. Jane didn’t have a strong supporting cast which I think is needed in a good cozy series. (There are a couple of series that I enjoy the sleuth’s buddies more than the main character.)
To me, a cozy is a relatable character that has a fun job/hobby that is also included in the book ”” baker has recipes, crafter has craft projects, etc. I don’t mind mild cursing. A traditional mystery to me is one where the character is a policeman or detective. Someone doing a job they normally perform. But they are less approachable, for lack of a better word. Cozy characters draw me in and could be my best friend or myself even. I also think cozies have a good bit of comedy added.
No cursing or swearing…mild violence, nothing gory. Relatable characters, quirky and funny…laugh at themselves. Mild romance, friendships. Also like the series that include crafts, baking, decorating, pets…so many great theme series out there!
Cozy mysteries are fun and the characters are more quirky than in a traditional mystery.
Quite a lot of agreement, except about the profanity, which kind of worries me because I taught my two sailors everything they needed to know when they shipped out. I get one more pass through my manuscript before it’s set in stone, so I’ll scrub it as clean as makes sense. But what makes sense to me, may not make sense to my readers.
What do you think about my definition of cozies … or the difference between cozy and traditional … or how much cursing is okay in a cozy?
Today marks one year since my spinal surgery. You remember, that day they sliced through the fascia in my upper back, hand-cranked my muscles out of the way, chipped away part of my spine, scooped out that benign meningioma, then whispered to my nerves an admonition to behave.
Remember? No? Honestly, me neither. But I’ve been re-reading all the notes I took before and after surgery, the texts I sent myself in the middle of the night in the hospital so I wouldn’t forget anything, the Facebook posts charting my phenomenal victories. “Two laps around the kitchen in my walker … woohoo!”
I was fastidious about keeping notes because one, that’s how I roll, and two, because when I found out I had this tumor and needed surgery, I searched ”” and I mean SEARCHED ”” for first-person accounts. But there were none to be had. So I knew, if I survived, I’d have to write one.
There are some interesting passages in my notes.
“You can do a lot of things with words, but describing pain isn’t one of them. Shooting, stabbing, aching, throbbing, twinging, cramping, seering … none of these describe anything happening to me.”
“When that pain roars back it’s like a bullet train. Fast and directly at me. Feels quite personal. Like a betrayal.”
“I can absolutely see people just giving up. Pain is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is hard. Here [in the hospital] they just do stuff for you. Or they don’t and you realize you just don’t care.”
This fascinates me because I honestly don’t remember much pain.
“My neurosurgeon came in to check on me [the next day], and was very pleased with himself. Said I was fully cured. I disagreed with him just the teensiest bit.”
“These texts to myself don’t make any noise. Once in awhile, though, it makes my “sending” noise and I wonder who I just told all my poop info to.”
This is hilarious in retrospect because I had obviously been cogent enough to turn the sound on and off, but I acted like it was a highly unusual rift in the Universe.
Mostly my middle-of-the-night texts were perfectly lucid. And then there was this one: “I hope I don’t have to muster all the persistence/hope/etc. I’d prefer it to be thrust upon me.”
And, yes, I was on drugs …. “Your leg pain brought to you this morning by Sleeping Too Long On Your Left Hip. Side effects include cursing, saying bad words, expletives, and grandiloquent language. Treatment includes pancakes and finger weapons. Pew-pew-pew.”
When people ask how I am these days, I tell them the truth. Still numb across my upper back, my right underarm, my lady bits, and my left leg. My balance is weird, so it always looks like I’m walking just the teensiest bit drunk. Still some things I can’t do ”” walk barefoot, run without looking like a walrus on the beach, jump, or hurry for any reason.
But that’s about it. Can’t really complain, considering all the slicing, cranking, chipping, and scooping. Unfortunately, my recovery after 12 months isn’t vastly different from my recovery after 2 months. Except I’m less cranky today. And I still can’t clip my toenails very easily.
The difference between 2 months and 12 months is clearly one of acceptance. I’ve lost perspective after all this time about how I really am, versus how much I’ve simply adapted to my limitations.
But I continue to surprise myself. I still work with my personal trainer. Last night she had me do single-leg squats with my foot behind me on a chair. Neither one of us thought I could do it. For the first set, I glommed onto her for balance while getting myself sorted. For the second set, I glommed onto her and then she gave me 15-pound weights to hold and walked across the room. For the third set, she stayed across the room. Afterward she said, “You couldn’t do that before your surgery.”
So, yes, acceptance and attitude. But I would like to find an ending for this tale of sound and fury so I can start crafting my memoir. I was thinking about signing up for the Colfax Half-Marathon, but am so relieved I came to my senses. Running like a walrus on a beach for two blocks of a 13-mile race is a lousy ending to a memoir. Worse if I actually croaked while doing it, which is the likely scenario.
Then I was thinking that the ending would be when I went to soap up my armpit and it magically felt like an actual armpit, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Or perhaps ever.
And then I was thinking, maybe the ending will be when I can tap dance. But I wasn’t really doing that particularly well before the surgery.
So now, I don’t know. How do you think I should end my story about an ordeal that hasn’t technically ended?
They say scent memories are the most overwhelming.
But they’re wrong.
Yes, when you smell bread baking it might toss you right back into your grandmother’s kitchen. Or the waft of skunk reminds you of that dreadful night. Or a certain perfume, caught on a breeze, delivers you to the small, embroidered bench of your mother’s vanity.
Music. Lyrics. Songs. We have more of those stuffed into our heads than all the odors combined. Well, I do anyway.
When our kids still lived at home, they found their way to our collection of vinyl records and our turntable, stored in the basement. Out of the blue, a song would sail upstairs. I hadn’t heard it for thirty years, yet I could stop what I was doing and sing every word as if I’d never left the floor of my bedroom where I sat cross-legged, solving for x in the Trapper Keeper resting on my lap.
So many songs in my head, each with a memory attached. Riding in a car, either snuggled next to my dad, or with my teenage friends, or driving my own children. Watching a movie musical. Sitting in the second pew of the church, the choir and organ or, later, the guitar resounding and triumphant, echoing in the space. But mostly music flitted in while I was doing something inconsequential, boring, routine.
And that’s still how it sneaks up on me.
When Glen Campbell died, all the tributes made me remember how much I liked his ballads but I realized I didn’t have any of his music. I placed a hold on his Greatest Hits CD at the library.
The library notified me it had arrived and I picked it up before I went to my recent MRI appointment. I popped the CD into the player in my car to listen to on the way.
The second song was “Wichita Lineman” and the tears began as soon as those sad strings swelled. I cried again during “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” and “Gentle On My Mind.” I had advanced to some seriously ugly crying when I heard “True Grit.”
“…that keeps you in the back roads of the rivers of my memory…”
The stories they tell are mostly ridiculous.
“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload …. I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain, and if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain.”
But “These Days,” the very last song on the CD, is different. Jackson Browne wrote it when he was only about sixteen. I’d never heard it before. Just a guitar, some strings, and Glen Campbell’s sweet, smooth voice. Pure vocal molasses.
I’ve been out walking
I don’t do too much talking
These days, these days.
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to.
I’ve stopped my rambling,
I don’t do too much gambling
These days, these days.
These days I seem to think about
How all the changes came about my way
And I wonder if I’ll see another highway.
I’ll keep on moving
I’m bound to be improving
These days, these days
And if I seem to be afraid
To live the life that I have made in song
It’s just that I’ve been healing so long
I’ve stopped my dreaming,
I won’t do too much scheming
These days, these days.
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten.
Please don’t confront me with my failures,
I’ve not forgotten them.
I had some time to ponder my reaction to this music while I was entombed in the MRI machine and later, driving home. Why did these songs, sung by this man I hadn’t thought of in years, affect me so?
The answer crept in gradually, a tide of understanding. Slow motion clarity, as usual.
Most of these songs are of my youth, 1968-1972. I was 10-ish. My parents were 40-ish. My world was small and safe, non-threatening. These songs were pretty. Glen Campbell was dreamy. “True Grit” was my favorite movie.
I’m not 10 anymore. My parents aren’t 40. My world isn’t small or safe.