Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Love Handles by Nannette Croce

Love handles. The little inner-tube of flesh that appeared at my waist on my 50th birthday. I don’t love them;I hate them.

Almost all the pounds I gained in the next few years left with the hot flashes. My body returned to its normal shape, though one size larger, and with those dang handles.

I can’t exercise them away. I can’t diet them away. Anything that fits well enough not to slip from my waist squeezes the little roll of soft flesh out over the top. As someone who has eaten right and exercised all my life, with menopause behind me, I could return to knitted tops and slim-cut jeans, but for that spare tire, that emergency fat, that bagel of flesh around my middle. How often I pine for the sleek profile I maintained well into my forties.

Then I think of that woman I see at the supermarket. You know the one, with the teased up cotton candy hair, the skin tight jeans, the mules she can barely balance on and the wrinkled 75-year-old face she tries to disguise with bronze pancake makeup.

Maybe, like my graying hair, those little handles are nature’s way of telling me it’s time to change my look. Time to opt for dignified over youthful; time to opt for handsome over sexy; time to accept my aging body with grace rather than fight a losing battle and end up looking ridiculous.

Time to learn to love those handles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nail Art by Barbara Quinn

I discovered a great product that’s a time saver. Nail polish pens. These little pens are amazingly simply and accurate. I’ve never been able to do my own nails well and I don’t want to spend time at the nail parlor. I’m not fond of all the roughing up of the surfaces that they do either. Plus I spend time digging in the dirt for my garden, and cooking and hate gloves. So I usually don’t do anything to my nails. Now, when I want to have them done, it’s goodbye nail parlor, hello nail pens.

So how do they work? You click on the nail pen and a small amount of polish is distributed to a brush in the tip. No more trying to get the right amount onto the brush. No more dipping the brush into the bottle, and knocking it over. I’m a major klutz and am prone to spills like that. Also, usually, no sooner do I put on a second coat than I smudge a nail or two. Then I have to start the process over for those nails.

For $7 or $8 you buy a nail pen and you’re in business. I’ve done my nails twice with one of them. You pop the pen in your bag so if you need a touch up it’s easy to do.

Today I sat outside and had my nails done in about two minutes. I’ve tried two brands: Sally Hansen, and OPI. Both work well. My only complaint is there aren’t many colors to choose from. I bet that’s going to change. Thank you to the person who figured this out.

I heard on the radio that someone’s invented a bra with movable straps, one that really works and is easily converted, so you won’t need an entire bra wardrobe. Sign me up! Gotta love the entrepreneurial spirit!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Loveliness of Words by Angie Ledbetter

I've always loved reading books, short stories and interesting articles, but only in the last 5 or 6 years have I started really paying attention to poetry. Sure, I tried my hand at a few pathetic poems in high school to express all that teen angst bottled up inside, and studied the required "masters" in class, but that was as far as my exposure went. Now that I've begun reading poetry in print publications and literary zines such as Rose& Thorn
http:// , Rattle http:// Drunken Boat, http:// etc., I love it. Taking a poetry course has added to my enjoyment.

With the increased reading of poetry, I've been writing quite a bit of it also. I get pure joy from stringing words and thoughts together in a concise form. Although very different from crafting articles or books, I can jot the bare bones or ideas for a poem down quickly, then come back to it at my leisure. And when the words flow and the stanzas pop, it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. I've created something from seemingly random ideas or by trying to convey a feeling succinctly. Writing poetry gives me a relaxing and enjoyable break from bigger, heavier projects.

Since I've been reading so much more poetry, I now have favorite poets. Their voices are distinct and their words have the power to transport me to unexpected places. Two contemporary modern poets I am thankful to "know" are former Poet Laureate Billy Collins (Listen to his magic here: http:// ) and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey, whom I've had the pleasure of hearing in person: http:// .

Their work always makes me smile with surprise and pleasure.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Image and Word Link Us at Umpteen-Thousand Feet by Kat Magendie

Because I’ll soon be flying the overly crowded skies amidst warnings of chaos, I want to recall the last time I flew—from Portland, Oregon where I’d visited my son, back home to North Carolina. What luck! I had the two seats all to myself, a relished luxury I appreciated. Exhausted from my great trip, I dozed, and when I again opened my eyes, colors ripped through a charcoal-threaded darkening sky. As it became full dark, I watched the towns below light up. Those lights signaled life and people, some crowded and full and others tiny dots of tiny towns. Behind me, two women spoke a foreign language, a lyrical beautiful sound. I lay my head against the cool glass and listened to a conversation I could not understand. But then, what is this? With a flashing burst of color, the women and I were linked when we said the same word in the same awed way, "Fireworks…"

Below us the colors burst in a raining arc. A town celebrating! I imagined a parade; hotdogs, hamburgers, big salty pretzels, cold cokes that leave that burning feeling in the back of the throat; the high school band playing badly but no one cares, for the little town has sons and daughters marching; and the fathers with small children bouncing on their shoulders, pointing to floats and clowns and bright-colored confetti; and then as the evening darkens, the first burst of colored light blazes in the sky with a Boom!, and the sighs and oohs and aahs of the people follow. The bursts become faster and bigger and louder, and that is when our airplane passes over, and within all of our unknown words is our uniting one: Fireworks!

I pointed with my index finger, the pad pressing against the glass. Our shared experience, the link of our language from the image below. Then, together, we repeated, “Fireworks..." I never want to forget. It was the only time I was grateful to be flying in a tin can high above my Earth. I blew a kiss to the town below, thanking them for sending us their message, one that bound strangers together in the language of joy and color and blazing sparkled light.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sounds of Silence by Nannette Croce

Those who live with man made sounds all around them may long for the silence of nature, but nature is rarely silent. The sounds are merely drowned out by all the manufactured noise.

Thirty-odd years ago when I first moved to this ex-urb of Philadelphia, warm, moonless nights brought blackness beyond my window screen, but not silence. In spring it was the peepers, later in summer, the crickets. During August summer days the cicadas. Some nights a barking fox would tease my dog, starting up each time he quieted down. Then there were the owls, hooting the same rhythm over and over. In the mornings the two-toned cluck of a pheasant under the bush and, of course, the birds waking with the sun. In winter the rustling of a skunk or raccoon snuggling up against the house to keep warm.

These sounds haven’t disappeared, not all of them anyway, but most of them are lost under the constant swoosh of traffic on the nearby highway, sirens––police, fire, ambulance–-at all hours. Planes, trains, and automobiles. The new noises expand exponentially, but so gradually that we don’t even realize what is happening and forget the underlying sounds ever existed.

But sitting on my patio on summer nights, sometimes if I concentrate very hard, I hear them again. Not over the man-made noise but beneath it. These are the sounds that really matter. These are the sounds of life and new beginnings.

Unlike the newcomers, I know they are there, and I’m grateful for that knowing, because it makes me remember to listen.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers by Barbara Quinn

Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire is famous for the line, "I've always relied on the kindness of strangers." Unlike Blanche, most of us don’t depend on the kindness of strangers, but when a stranger provides us with an unexpected kindness, what a sweet gift it is. (Full disclosure here: I have to admit I also think of Woody Allen playing Blanche DuBois in the movie Sleeper whenever I hear that "kindness of strangers" line.)

I was running late, again, and the supermarket was incredibly crowded. I only had a few items in my hands. I scanned the lines. Darn. There was no checkout relief in site. Even the self-checkout lines were three deep. I took a deep breath, found a shortish line, and resigned myself to the wait. The woman in front of me caught my eye and I said, “What on earth is going on today? Everyone must have gotten the memo to go to the A&P at the same time.” She smiled and said, “Why don’t you go ahead of me.”

Oh wow. I did not expect that, even though I often let people go ahead of me when they have only a couple of items.

I hesitated and she said, “It’s fine. Really.” I thanked her. And I thanked her again when I’d finished. It was so nice to have someone do me a favor.

Sure there are a lot of sour pusses out there. It’s so much better to remember the encounters with the good-hearted souls like the supermarket lady. That little exchange left me in a good mood for hours. Here’s to those who take the time to do a little kindness.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Simple Gestures by Angie Ledbetter

During tough times or when I'm just down about something, the simplest gesture can lift me out of a blue funk.

Having a rough day in class with fifth graders in the throes of Spring Fever, one kind student came to me later and said, "Mrs. Ledbetter, I'm sorry our class was so rowdy," and gave me a hug. That sweet child makes me take extra care planning a class retreat instead of punish work. One good apple redeemed a barrel of bad ones.

Similar gestures which I try to "pass forward" are: one of my own kids saying thanks for a special dish I'd prepared for supper; another who appreciated that I attended a school function instead of visiting with friends; phone calls and emails asking about my sick mom. These acts are easy and free to perform, but leave a lasting feeling of goodness. Sometimes, even a smile or a wink can turn around a bad day. And the best thing about it is they make you feel great -- whether from the receiving or giving end.

There's a Gratitude Campaign website everyone should visit. It made such an impact on me, after I dried my tears I couldn't wait to meet up with a service person to let them know I appreciate their service and sacrifice. The site teaches a simple gesture we can use to express our thanks. I hope you visit and practice its message:

I know my stepdaughter, her husband and their three beautiful kids would love to see the gesture expressed the next time they are in the airport bringing him to board another overseas plane, or when they're just taking a family outing.

THANK YOU, service men and women, and your families. I appreciate you and your willingness to serve and defend!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thanks sew much, Mom by Kat Magendie

“Take your time. If you rush, it will show,” my mother said. She bent over the table, her hair a soft brown curtain, and smoothed the pattern. From the old pin cushion she extracted four pins, stuck three in her mouth, and slipped one in the thickness of pattern and material. I did the same on the other half of the pattern, but much more clumsy and slow. Before, it always seemed like magic to find Barbie Doll clothes under the Christmas tree. After my brothers and I were in bed, she’d stay up late and sew beautiful clothes for the doll—evening gowns, pants suits, summer dresses, gloves even! She did it without patterns and I never have figured out how she made them to fit so perfectly, not a gap or pucker to be found.

Next, I cut out the blouse, and then Mother marked the fabric with a white sewing marker—where the darts were, the hem, other magical things. It was finally time to sew. Mother pointed to the directions and said, “Follow these carefully, step by step. First, thread the machine and the bobbin. Let me show you.”

Finally, I guided the material, the thread binded together the seams. Slow at first, I soon gathered speed. “Not too fast,” she’d say, “that material will pucker.” What I didn’t see until I was grown was the bond sewing gave my mother and me. But oh how I thanked her those years when money was scarce. I sat down at my own sewing machine to create the suits, blouses, skirts, and pants that became my work wardrobe, just as she had.

I haven’t sewn on my own sewing machine in quite some time now, unless it’s to mend a tear, hem up the length of a pair of pants, attach a button, but I think how nice it’d be to sit again and hear the whirr of the motor, to feel my foot press the pedal. When I visit Mother in Texas, she sits me in front of her Bernina, and it’s as if I’m young again as she shows me how to make the magic. I create, and then I grin and show it off, "Look, Mom!" She says, “Good job.” Thanks, Mom, I say. Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thank Heaven for Little Girls by Nannette Croce

I have one child. All through my pregnancy I assumed––maybe even hoped?–-for a boy. No special reason, except I was a woman––obviously–-and I had an older sister. I grew up with a male cousin living next door. Just close enough to make the male world appear mysterious and exciting without any of the downside of brotherhood.

I gave birth to a girl. As most mothers, once she was there in my arms I felt no disappointment, but what surprised was the immediate connection. She was a female with all the same parts functioning in a way I understood. In the first few weeks of life, females––thank heaven I was warned in advance––may even menstruate slightly.

Of course, no parent knows fully what to expect as a child grows. She’s taken a few turns I didn’t or at least I don’t remember taking. But things like her relationship with her Dad, her later love/hate relationship with me, her first love, her first breakup, followed the path I knew they would.

My daughter graduates college in a few weeks. When she left us, four years ago, she went long intervals without calling. I didn’t panic. She needed to establish her independence. In this last year, though, she calls more often. We talk mostly about her future, how to transition from college to the real world, where she will look for jobs.

Instead of feeling threatened by my advice, she seeks it out. This is her rehearsal for the next phase. Some women prefer the childhood years. Not me. This is what it was all for. All the intervals of wakeful nights. All the arguments, frustrations, tears. From here on our relationship will continue woman to woman.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jersey Shore Relay - Special Olympics by Barbara Quinn

This weekend I volunteered at the Jersey Shore Relay race. I spent my time at the finish line in Asbury Park helping my husband photograph the 1500 participants.This race is a benefit for the Special Olympics. Last year it raised $50,000. Teams run several legs of about 5 miles each, the equivalent of a marathon. There are a few actual marathoners, and there’s also a companion three mile health walk. Besides the many participants, there are hundreds of volunteers.The race runs along some of the most beautiful stretches of the shore and it starts at 6:30 in the morning. Some of the teams dress in costume. And afterwards there’s a big thank you party with beer, awards, and wine and food donated by local businesses. Since it’s Asbury Park, you know there’s going to be great music. It's wonderful to see these people all working with the goal of helping the Special Olympics.

People take personal precious time to make this event happen. They spend months planning and coordinating and do it with good cheer. Where would we be without the volunteers? They deserve a big pat on the back and a heartfelt thank you from all of us. I’m so glad my husband and I were able to help in a very small way. Get out there and help a cause. The truth is, you’ll get a heck of a lot more out of helping out than the small amount of time you give!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Over the Rainbow by Angie Ledbetter

It's been a hectic week with several writing projects coming due at the same time, a major school fundraiser that sliced eight hours out of my Saturday, a double shift at work all week, two family members ill, my old Jeep's A/C went out (not pleasant in the South even in April!), tuition is coming due for two of my kids, my middle son got in a wreck helping out at the fundraiser yesterday...and a bunch of other stuff. Most of all, I'm sleep deprived and just plain feeling old. I've felt like my rainbow has led to a Port O' Potty instead of a pot of gold.

Okay, so what's there to be grateful for? It's that, in the end, I know everything is going to be okay. I can only control how I look at things and let them affect me. Like that rainbow photo, I can choose to focus on the not-so-nice portable bathroom, or I can look up and see the overwhelming beauty of a rare rainbow. Changing my focus and looking more into the future instead of at the immediate gives me hope. And, as always, prayer and faith in good people lift me up.

Revised week with the "rainbow" view instead of the "potty" view: I'm glad I got my writing assignments in on time and I feel a sense of accomplishment, the fundraiser went great and the athletic association earned some much needed money (plus I brought home leftover BBQ chicken for family and a bucket of baked beans to serve at the men's shelter), my brother is healing from surgery and Mom seems a bit better, my Jeep probably just needs a shot of freon, school tuition will be paid, and I'm really thankful no one was hurt in that wreck yesterday. All in all, I feel much better after a good night's sleep.

Rainbows or port o''s all in how you look at it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Child's Pose by Kat Magendie

Once I step onto my yoga matt, I leave everything else behind but the moment. There are no racing thoughts, no worries about what I have to get done next, for I must concentrate on breath, on maintaining internal silence, Antar mouna. I am careful not to overextend, such as in forward and backwards bends, or to take my body too far into the pose in those areas where I am not as flexible; I must respect my body’s abilities and its limitations. My eyes look inward as I concentrate on a spot or object, Bahiranga tratakanot. I stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana,—feet together, hands at my sides. I bring my hands to prayer position, then raise my arms up to the sky, feeling a gentle stretch, my balance, my focus, and from there, I fold and move into the sun salutation, Surya-namaskar.

If my back is bad, I will let yoga take me only to where I feel safe, as in a gentle cat and dog stretch, or perhaps hold downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana, a bit longer. It is just me and my matt and my heart; there is no one to tell me how much or how little I must do. I like that. I feel the freedom of making the yoga my own. Perhaps that is what is intended, but if not, I can only ask forgiveness for my ignorance.

No matter which yoga poses I do, I always include child’s pose at the end. It is hard to feel anything but peace and serenity when folded into a facing-down fetal position. My face is hidden from the world, my body tucked tight, yet my spine is vulnerable to the sky and anyone who may come near me. It is at once both a trusting pose, while a very private and protective one. I breathe in and out, slowly and evenly. I stay that way until I can face the world again. Then I curl up and sit into half-lotus pose, ardha padma-asana, bring my hands to prayer position, then lower my head, close my eyes, and whisper, Namaste, which is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another, or when alone, my own acknowledgement of my heart. How can I feel anything but contentment, peace, and gratitude when in this beautiful pose? I cannot. Namaste.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Leisure Time by Nannette Croce

Leisure time. It used to be what people aspired to. It was the last rung of the ladder. The “leisured” class.

When did it change?

Now the measure of success is how “busy” you are. How many cell phone calls you need to squeeze in before the plane takes off. How many times you need to check your Blackberry while on vacation. People complain about new technology putting them constantly on call, but I have often suspected that if silence were to break out, panic would set in. Am I not indispensable? Am I no longer important?

In support of this I can state, unequivocally, that it did not begin with the tech boom. A couple of decades ago I learned the hard way that when the manager said, “Don't call unless the building’s on fire” one should not ignore the wink and nod. Being constantly interrupted with "important" business matters lent a certain cachet. I even fell prey to it myself once or twice, making “You forgot to leave me those spreadsheets to type” into "another fire to put out" in the eyes of my traveling companions.

Not anymore. Call me crazy, but I appreciate my leisure time. At my last job, contacts wanted my cell number and personal e-mail to access me 24/7. Yes, I could have seemed very important, taking calls at my kid’s school play, but I wasn’t important. I had a part-time slightly above minimum wage job, and nothing really mattered so much it couldn’t wait one more day. Amazingly, my contacts learned to accept that. No one’s world fell apart, and I hung onto my now much appreciated leisure time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Accidents Happen by Barbara Quinn

Last weekend I was sitting in a restaurant when the door opened and a nervous man walked in and asked:

“Who owns the gold Infinity in the lot?”

I looked up, not sure what to expect, my stomach churning a bit. “That’s mine.”

“I just hit your bumper and dented it.”

Wow, I got into trouble sitting in a restaurant for dinner. And so my weekend went from being a relaxing one to a busy-with-the-details-of-getting-the-bumper-fixed one.

The gentleman who hit my car, was just that. A gentleman. I was so grateful that he didn’t run off and leave my car out there without telling me he had damaged it. He did the right thing and I am lucky for that. We exchanged information, insurance, and license numbers. I used my cell phone to take some pictures of my bumper and his. (That’s something to remember to do if you are in an accident. Better to have some record of what the car looked like where it was hit.) He had an SUV and it really did a number on my bumper. I called my insurance company to begin the process of the claim in case it came to that. Yeah, it was a headache to do all the calling and then to bring it to the body shop this week for an estimate of damage (ohmigod, bumpers are expensive to fix!). But the gentleman decided he didn’t want to go through insurance and he paid me directly. I deposited the check and it cleared and I dropped my car off to get fixed. Luckily I was going away so it was not a problem to lose it to the auto body place for a few days.

All in all it was a most civilized accident. Not nearly so bad as say a root canal.

It did restore my faith in humanity. For that, and for all people who do the right thing, I am grateful.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thank You, Trahnh's by Angie Ledbetter

I'm lucky to have a small mom & pop dry cleaner/alteration business right in my neighborhood. Kids grown so tall their school uniform pants can't make it through May? No problem, go to Trahnh's. Need a prom dress altered pronto? Head to Trahnh's. You glued Boy Scout patches on with "super hold" spray glue and now they've come off in the wash? It's an easy job for Trahnh's with their heavy duty sewing machines. Over the years, those lovely people have covered a multitude of sewing and laundry sins for me.

So many businesses from my childhood have closed up; knocked out of the profit loop by huge chain stores. I think there is only one small independent bookstore left in Baton Rouge. The same for corner grocery stores. Who can afford to compete with the WallyWorlds and J-Marts?

But in my little magical neighborhood, we still have one of the few remaining full service independently owned gas stations. Until very recently, we had a small grocer's with the best sliced ham and deli around. I miss the many places of commerce that have boarded up their windows over the last twenty years. I miss the personal chitchat, the friendly attitudes, the dependable service.

While there are still a few of these locally owned places around, I'll continue to patronize them as often as I can. I understand the prices may be a little higher because of taxes, insurance, and higher overhead. My hat's off to these men and women running their own businesses, despite the rising costs and headaches.

The best part about walking into Trahnh's? With every item of perfectly laundered, starched, sewn, or altered clothing I pick up, I've never once failed to hear with the tinkling of the bell on the door as I leave, "You have nice day, now, y'all!" I just love that. It makes my day. Happy people doing good work for satisfied customers. Ah, the American way.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sunday Rituals and Vituals by Kat Magendie

Sunday's are about ritual: Get up; yawn, drink coffee; organize the one paper we have delivered to our cove, the Sunday Asheville Citizen Times, into read piles; mountain walk; turn TV to Sunday Morning; and turn on oven. What a life, what joy, what comfort. Used to be the ritual was church-going. Grouse. Mutter. Mom forced us five kids to crawl out of bed, wash our face and brush our teeth even!, get dressed, and all to attend boring church and worse was when we had to get up earlier to attend boring Sunday School before boring Church. I still think church is boring, sorry Church Folk, sorry Mom, sorry ministers and priests and whatnotall, but, one of my Sunday rituals is I’m no longer afraid I’ll go to some fiery hell if I don’t get my butt to church. I digress. I’m talking about biscuits here. Yep. Hot flakey put some honey butter on mine please biscuits!

Well, today is Tuesday and I could have them, could have had them yesterday, could have them tomorrow. But it wouldn’t feel the same, for I need that ritual on Sunday, to set it apart—larkens back to the old homestead days when dear ole Mom cajoled, “GET YOUR LAZY BUTTS OUT OF BED YOU DIRTY LITTLE HEATHENS! RIGHT NOW NOW NOW BEFORE I WHUP YOUR HIND-ENDS BUT GOOD! EVERY SUNDAY THE SAME THING. I. HAVE. HAD. IT. UP. TO. HERE! YOU HEAR ME?” Ah, yes. I hear it, along with the pitter patter of our dragging feet as we carried our own personal crosses to Jesus so he wouldn’t feel alone with his.

Anyhoo, don’t serve me those canned biscuits, eyew. I will accept Pillsbury Frozen Biscuits, because they are as close to homemade as I have eaten. My granny made cat’s head biscuits. Oh! She’d put the dough in a pan and then cut squares—gawdang those have never been replicated, ever. We’d dip them in chocolate syrup—a sugar-gritty concoction of sugar, water, chocolate sauce, and Granny’s secret that was a pinch of salt or a bit of love or some vanilla or a drop of sweat, or whatnot; who cared, it was sopped up and quick. Sunday morning is biscuit morning. Period. Amen. HERE are some recipes, Bless Your Heart if you don’t have your own. Here’s to Sunday—only five more days away! (What? You thought I'd write about Taxes?)

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Very Accurate Mirrors by Nannette Croce

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine complains about “thin mirrors” in fitting rooms? It makes me appreciate the very dependable full-length mirror in my bedroom. It always shows the true me. It’s one of those antique reproductions that tilts on a stand. Sometimes from cleaning or bumping it tilts the wrong way, making me appear uncharacteristically short and dumpy, but with a slight adjustment I'm back to the tall, slim gal I am in reality.

Lucky I have that mirror, because it’s the only accurate one in the house. The others are so distorted they belong in a fun house. It's like I gain five pounds just by changing rooms.

Now my bedroom mirror isn’t perfect mind you. While great for checking out an outfit, it’s lousy for makeup. I suppose it’s the light or something about the tilt distorting close-ups because it shows lines and wrinkles I don’t have.

My perfect makeup mirror hangs above my dresser. That’s a true antique I inherited from my grandmother, so old in fact, that the surface looks a little grainy, but amazingly I see my face quite clearly with none of the lines my other mirror shows, though they can’t be more than a few feet apart.

I feel sorry for all those poor women stuck with bad mirrors, and I am so grateful for my two very accurate ones.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Gratitude by Lois Winston

When Barbara Quinn asked me to write a post for the Year of Gratitude blog, I immediately agreed. Then I panicked. What exactly did I have to be grateful for lately? The last few months had been totally sucky. I’d been wallowing in a huge vat of self-pity and wasn’t feeling the least bit grateful about anything. Too much within my control hadn’t panned out for reasons that turned out to be completely out of my control, and the rest I had no control of to begin with. Why, I whined, did the Karma gods visit everyone but me?

Then I realized what was happening. I was scared, scared I wouldn’t accomplish everything I wanted to before I ran out of time. I’m not a kid, but I have reached that point in my life where statistically the time behind me is greater than the time ahead of me. I had my Bucket List, but would I have time to check off all the items on it?

Morbid thought, huh?

Usually, I’m not this pessimistic. I’ve always considered myself a pragmatist. However, back the end of August I lost my critique partner to a sudden illness. Over nearly eight years of friendship we’d never met in person; an ocean separated us. But thanks to the Internet we’d become as close as sisters. Until Karen entered my life, I never had a friend who was so much like me in so many ways. We shared many of the same life experiences, the same talents, the same likes and dislikes. We thought so much alike that it seemed we had to have been twins separated at birth.

Then she was gone, and I felt cheated. My grief overwhelmed me.

So there I was, thinking about what to write for this blog and not feeling all that grateful. Then it hit me. I realized how much less a person I would be today if my life hadn’t been enriched by Karen’s friendship. I had nearly eight years of this extraordinary woman’s intellect, humor, and compassion. Many people will live their entire lives without being touched by someone like Karen Davenport. The Karma gods had indeed blessed me.

In the song For Good from the musical Wicked, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, and Glinda, the Good Witch, are saying good-bye to each other for the last time. Glinda tells Elphaba that she’s heard people come into each others’ lives for a reason and that knowing Elphaba has shaped her into the person she has become. Elphaba tells Glinda that she’ll always be a part of her, like a handprint on her heart. I will be forever grateful that Karen came into my life, and she will remain with me forever as a handprint on my heart.

* * *
Award-winning author Lois Winston writes humorous, cross-genre, contemporary novels and romantic suspense. She often draws upon her extensive experience as an artist and crafts designer for much of her source material. Her first book, TALK GERTIE TO ME, was released in 2006 and was the recipient of the Readers and Bookbuyers Best Award, took second place in both the Beacon Awards and Laurel Wreath Awards, and was nominated for both a Reviewers’ Choice Award and a Golden Leaf Award. Her second novel, LOVE, LIES & A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION, was a June 2007 release and so far has been nominated for a Golden Leaf Award. Lois contributed to DREAMS & DESIRES, VOL. 1 and 2 and is a contributor to HOUSE UNAUTHORIZED, a November 2007 release. When not writing or designing, you can find Lois trudging through stacks of manuscripts as she hunts for diamonds in the slush piles for the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Visit Lois at

A Change of Scene by Barbara Quinn

It’s warm in NY but it’s warmer in Florida. I spent a couple of days in sunny Orlando accompanying my husband on a business trip. It’s lovely to stay in a nice hotel where someone else does the laundry and all I need do is get myself nicely dressed and show up for a meal I haven’t had to cook or plan. I can work anywhere, so I pack up the laptop and a small bag and off I go.

Granted flying is a gauntlet now and you’re likely to be delayed and annoyed on the way there or back. To cope I pack snacks that are far more edible than the airline’s faux food, and I buy a large bottle of water that I am ripped off for right before I board. I usually bring lunch too.

Once I’ve arrived and unpacked it’s a welcome break to be in new surroundings with a different routine. I no longer enjoy rigorous adventure travel (not that I was all that adventurous but my need for creature comforts has increased in a direct ratio to my age). There is no doubt that my creativity is stimulated when I change things up. Different flowers and birds, a different scent to the air, different cadence to the voices, all catch my attention and make me aware of how wonderful and varied our planet is. Bliss!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Drug Problem by Angie Ledbetter

Sadly, the title of this entry is familiar to many parents. I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected by drug or alcohol addiction; or has someone very close to them who has. This realization causes me worry for the future of our younger generations. Think about the people you know. Aren't many/most of them dealing with addiction issues?

The fact that I am not, and neither are my children (please, God, and knock wood), is attributable to the values and ethics instilled by my parents long ago. But many parents warn their kids about drugs. What makes the difference in those who fall prey and those who escape the devastating web of these substances? I believe it has to do primarily with graduating from the School of Drugs. I've read similar "research" from others, and the easiest way to explain this teaching is to give examples from my own childhood "drug problem."

I was drug to church every single solitary Sunday of the world, no matter if we were out of town or I didn't feel good. I was constantly being drug to family functions, parties and reunions; all of which I hated. Likewise funerals, weddings and meals. My ears are probably larger than they should be from all the times I was drug to my room and punished for being sassy, disrespectful, or for failing to make good grades at school. Several times I was drug to the sink and my mouth washed out for spouting an unacceptable word. More times than I'd like to remember, I was drug from my warm bed to do Saturday Morning House Cleaning. My parents drug me on weekends and school vacations to plant sweet potatoes, work car washes or bake sales to earn money for Girl Scout trips. I was drug frequently against my will to help others who had no one else at home to do chores.

Those drugs (and many others) forced upon me by my parents still run through my veins today and affect how I act and make choices. The residual effect is stronger than that left by all combined popular "recreational" drugs available today. And now, my poor children, hopefully, are suffering from the same generational genetically encoded behavior pattern. BIG words of gratitude to parents who are drugging their offspring today.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Serpent of Doubt by Kat Magendie

I can find frustration in this writing life—when I allow the business side to overshadow the imaginative inspiration. When I think Publish instead of Create. Well, this is a business after all, isn't it? At least that is what I am to understand (and a part of me does, yes, of course), that writers must think of their writing as a business proposition, as something to sell. I write. I rework and edit. I then sit back with the finished work that has become a Product, and that is when Doubt ssssslithers in. I try to ignore the whispery sounds sssssliding, sssssliding.

I sit lonely, alone, an island, and I hold my words tight against me, in spite of, not because of whip-tongued Doubt. There is the compulsion, the veritable need to write—if I do not lance the festering boil of words they only inflame, throb, ache, and I become ill with infection of disuse. It is only when I complete a piece that the content leaves my face and the ssssslivered tongue pierces, “Time to sssssubmit and wait. If you’re talented, they’ll publish you.” I then slog to my mailbox—what will be there? When I push my hand into the cavernous darkness, I imagine the snarly snakes, hissssing venomously, waiting, waiting. Will I be stricken by the rejection poison? Or will the serpent offer up a shiny red apple, crisp with possibility?

Jean Cocteau says, “Only intensity matters. Talent—you have it or you don’t.” Perhaps included in that “intensity” is the stubborn will that a good writer will never give up, a gifted, talented writer will thrust a hand into the writhing abyss, pull out the envelope, open it, and while reading its contents, will have already stealed the mind ready to craft the next and the next and the next and the next piece, until the end of their time, no matter Doubt and it's sssss sssss sssss. Be grateful for your gifts, whatever they are, even if there are times You may feel as if the gift comes wrapped with conditionssss. Then, find that intensity, that stubborn tenacity to let slip the serpent of doubt.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Gift of a Day by Nannette Croce

The forecast was three days of rain starting Friday. Unless you live in a severe drought area that forecast brings with it a gloomy outlook anytime, but for a weekend in March in my area of the country (southeastern Pennsylvania) it means lost opportunities. The limbs from a winter of unusually high winds litter the lawn waiting to snap the lawnmower blade first time out. Dead leaves hide the perennials attempting to peep through in our flower beds and herb garden. If the flowers and herbs are peeping through, the weeds can’t be far behind.

Each year this time becomes a race with nature. Cold chilly days bring more weeds and less time to prepare for summer planting. Warm sunny days always seem to come when I have other plans––an important meeting, a family birthday, bills to pay.

But this morning’s sunrise brought a glaring example of meteorological fallibility––literally. Sunshine brightened my greening lawn. Friday’s clouds drifted off into the distance. Only a slight breeze swayed the branches of the budding trees.

An unexpected sunny day. A day when I have nowhere else to be; nothing pressing to do.

What a true gift.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Kiss is Still A Kiss by Barbara Quinn

Who doesn’t remember that first kiss? I don’t mean the little pecks here or there. I mean the first heart-stopping, breath-taking away, knee wobbling touching of lips to lips. Oh, I could melt right now remembering that winter night when young Bobby Shanley turned my face up beneath the lamp post and looked at me through dark snow-studded lashes. My heart raced madly. I fit into his arms perfectly. Our breath curled around us and we pressed close. It was achingly cold, when he leaned in, and gently pressed his lips to mine. His mouth was warm, inviting, and my insides melted and puddled. In spite of our winter coats I could feel the energy and warmth pouring from him and from me. It was pure life force and it was heady. I never wanted that kiss to stop. Pure happiness, pure life.

Now, how can we not be grateful for the ability to kiss? To send the heart of another human racing with one simple, sweet touch is beyond compare. Kisses can playful, sensual, and planted in more places than anyone can imagine. Physical intimacy is one of the wonders of life, and one for which I will forever be grateful.

Nature is beautiful but a kiss is divine.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Getaways by Angie Ledbetter

"Time for work - yet take much holiday for art's and friendship's sake." ~ George de Wilde

I'm thankful for this past weekend, as I got a chance to run away with women friends to a sleepy little bayou town for two days of communing with each other, nature, poets and other writers at an annual seminar.

There's always something interesting to learn, but more importantly, I get to experience the feel of a feather-soft bed and pillow, fresh coffee brewed in my hotel room, the relaxation of a couple hours' drive, the sharing of meals and thoughts with others whose company I greatly enjoy. I'm grateful for these opportunities and thankful they come my way a time or two every year. Even though I worry about what's going on at home -- this weekend was one of my son's Jr./Sr. prom and I missed the excitement of watching him don his first tux; sharing in my daughter's happiness in her new college life; the proudness I experience watching one son play school baseball and his brother compete in an State algebra tournament -- and in general, being available for all the mom things that happen every day of my "regular" routine, it was nice to be doing something different.

Without the very healthful and necessary-to-the-soul down times away to recharge my own personal batteries, I'm sure I wouldn't appreciate the never-ending stuff that goes on with my family nearly as much. As a bonus, upon my return, we gathered as a family to celebrate my dad's 71st birthday. What a way to end my mini-vacation!

All in all, a great which I hope to repeat soon.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Trick is Laughter, by Susan Reinhardt

Spring finally arrived, the world readying itself for its annual ball, trees and flowers fancying up in all their colorful couture. It's hard to gaze outside and feel blue, especially when you drive by an old abandoned house, and out of nowhere, a circle of daffodils has decided to bloom where no one had invited them. Even the highways have turned from avenues of road rage to glorious streets lined with Bradford pears and Cherry Tree blossoms, opening up as if to say a better world is coming.

Winter is my season of gloom, when the bed looks more inviting than the task of getting dressed, putting on make-up, and going outdoors into bleak and cold rainy days. Rarely, do I exercise or do anything more than Computer Slugging in winter months. There's no excuse anymore. I am awakening early, to the music of birds and barks of dogs, the sounds of mowers and mulchers, a chorus rehearsing for the months ahead. While life is hard right now, and I'm going through a divorce and literally feel my heart ache when my children aren't in my home, I'm trying to find joy in the smallest moments. Who says we can't take the tiny joys and inflate them into huge balloons of happiness? Or maybe contentment, if sheer bliss is stretching it a bit?

The trick is laughter. It's finding friends who say the right things and do the outlandish. It's steering clear of whiners and grouches, people who pull us down with their black bricks of negativity. I'm so grateful for my crazy sister who lives in Rich City, Ga. I call it Rich City, because frankly, everyone there is fairly wealthy. I can always count on her to lift what's heavy and trim off the weight of worry and angst. Last week, fretting my latest book wasn't going to sell, she called in the nick of time telling me she was in a bidding war on the UK version of eBay. Of all the things in this world to buy, she was dying for a possum fur coat. Possum!!! A road kill coat.

"I have to have that coat," she said. "No one else could possibly want it more than me." She scored the coat, and called as if she'd just given birth to a healthy baby. In fact, I don't recall her being THAT excited over her sweet cherubs' births. "I was going to buy the possum pillow cases, but I thought that might be a little overboard," she said. With a sister like this, and the little snippets of joy around every corner that's decorated for the Spring Ball, it's hard to stay down. My new motto is, "Be Happy, No Matter What." If that doesn't work, there's always Merlot.
Reinhardt is a full-time columnist for the Asheville Citizen Times. Her column is available to one-hundred Gannett papers as well as other papers that subscribe to the Gannett News Wire. Reinhardt’s short stories have been awarded prizes by Story Magazine, Mademoiselle, and Writer’s Digest. She has won numerous awards for her columns and fiction, such as three “Best of Gannett” awards and Gannett’s Outstanding Writer of the Year in 1998. Reinhardt is the author of “Not Tonight, Honey…Wait ‘til I’m a size 6…” (2005, Kensington Publishing) now in its fifth printing; and “Don’t Sleep With A Bubba: Unless Your Eggs Are In Wheelchairs” is available in bookstores. Her latest, "Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin" will be available April 29. For more, visit her website at:

The Backs of our Hands, by Kathryn Magendie

Sometimes I think upon things that when I try to articulate them may feel uncomfortable, as when I talk about God or god, or rather, an energy who has no sense of Evil and Good, or Sin and Sinless. There are times I think about what is important to our survival—will water be the new oil? will our sun begin dimming and begin a slow progress to another ice age, will we over-develop and one day look out upon our landscapes and mourn the nature we so love and want to live around and in, and ironically, in our love of nature and our desire to live in and with it, we destroy the very natural world to replace it with our man-made one? I think about our evolving bodies and minds and how I would love to see what changes are insidiously happening as technology races ahead, as our earth transforms, our diets, our air—even by the very things we watch on television—is this creating a new society, or a different society from even my own childhood? How could it not? With technology comes responsibility, comes change, comes evolution. Is it all bad news? Of course not. But to ignore any evolution as wrong or unbelievable is imprudent, I believe, just as the idea of some all-encompassing power puppeting our every move or molecule is strange and surreal to me. What remains stationary? What is not a living breathing changing morphing wondrous living being? A rushing creek stays clear and cold and sweet; a stagnant still pool of water becomes scummy and clouded and soon dries up.

Hold up your hand. Is this the same hand you had as a child? The same hand from five years ago? Aren't there changes, ones you have not noticed along the way, but when you study your hand, you may think, "Wait, that spot/wrinkle/scar/line wasn't there before." By the very act of our aging, we evolve, or reverse evolve (de-volve?) Just as we are born helpless, wrinkled, toothless, needy, there we can go in our old age; the circle of life goes ‘round, no matter how we fight to hide it. Yes, my 50 is not my grandmother's 50, but sooner or later we have to look at the backs of our hands, the day when our creams and surgeries and vitamins and hopes and strivings still lead us to very old age (if we are lucky) and then back to where we came, perhaps to start all over again? I hope so. I want to feel it all, even the “bad” things, because that means I have lived. What an incredible journey! Be grateful with me for our Earth World’s mysteries.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Here Comes the Sun by Nannette Croce

Sometimes I think I’m a cold-blooded animal like a snake or a lizard because my energy level increases proportionately to the amount of sunlight I absorb in a day. I live for the long days of late spring and summer.

This year they (as in the “they” who are constantly messing with my comfort zone) screwed me up by starting daylight savings about a month early. The bit of extra light at the end of the day seemed worthless––especially given the chilly weather––compared to the hour of sunshine I lost in the morning. One day the sun was creeping up by about 6:30. The next it was still dark at 7:00 AM.

Happily we have reached the point where man-made time is more in sync with the cosmos and the sun is rising closer to the time I do. Soon it will rise before I do and stay up past 9:00 in the evening. The days will turn warm, and this lizard will shed her rough winter skin for bare legs, gauzy skirts, and sandals.

I am thankful to know that no matter how long and dark the winter days, warmth and sunshine will always return.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Preventive Medicine by Barbara Quinn

I came through my physical this year with good numbers and that is something to be happy about and thankful for. Last year when my cholesterol was high, I decided to start taking some over-the-counter supplements. Green tea extract and policosanol seem to have done the trick. My cholesterol is down to 189 (from 220) and my other numbers, like triglycerides, were also good. The nice thing about these two supplements is they are reasonable ones that I can find at places like Wal-Mart.

Though I'd much rather linger in bed, I make it to the gym where I weight train twice a week, and take a cardio class twice a week. I feel better when I go and have more energy. My clothes are starting to fit a little better but I have more to lose according to my doctor. So I’ll keep at it and keep trying not to have that extra glass of wine with dinner, or that piece of cake for dessert. Well, at least not the whole piece of cake.

One of my secret weapons is tea bags. Remember how In A Big Fat Greek Wedding they were always using Windex? Well, my cure all is all things tea including tea bags. Usually I drink it, or take it in pill form like the Green Tea Extract, but one day a couple of years ago I read how tea was filled with anti-oxidants. I figured, why not use a tea bag on my face? (Yes, it does look weird when you do this.) I had a few things removed by my skin doctor and didn’t want to go through that again. So I started and stuck with the tea bag treatments. I haven’t had any additional growths since then. I told my dermatologist about this and he said it was pretty well documented that tea is good to put on the skin. Sheesh. They don’t do a very good job of letting anyone know, do they? So try it! Maybe there should be a saying, “A tea bag a day keeps skin cancer away.”

Take care of yourselves. Ain’t no one else who is going to do it for you. Trust in tea. You could do a whole lot worse. And a big "Thank You" to my doctors who have caught quite a few things over the years and kept me going.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Early Workers by Angie Ledbetter

Driving home from my parents' house early this morning, I passed very few cars or people in the dark hour before daylight. A few teens waited for buses on street corners, and I felt sorry for them until I remembered the past three years when I and many other teachers woke at 4:30 daily to get ready and get to school on time. *smile*

A recycling truck lumbered by like some prehistoric behemoth; a city bus, lit from within like a land yacht, spilled its yellow light onto the wet street; and several school buses crossed my path this morning. Their drivers made me think about all the people who rise to go to work on the night shift or in the wee hours of the morning. Having to adjust my own night owl preferences to get up early too, I appreciate the effort they have to put in in order to make their 40 hours. There's nothing fun about it -- they have to sleep while others are relaxing, they go through a painful period of sleep deprivation until their bodies adjust to a new schedule, and they drag through sometimes months of feeling tired and drained.

I appreciate these people. Without them, our world wouldn't run as smoothly. Think of the emergency and hospital personnel, those who man newspaper plants and radio stations, truckers who haul groceries and produce cross country, and store clerks and restaurant servers who keep 24-hour businesses open and running. Many of them don't work the dog shift or early mornings because they prefer it. Maybe it was the only job available, or perhaps they are taking care of kids or sick ones at home. Or it's a second income because they are struggling financially.

I'm going to remember to thank these "cogs" who keep our world's wheels turning smoothly day and night. At the very least, I'll keep in mind they are tired and trying to do their best under hard circumstances, and probably need a little human kindness and compassion from those whom they serve, instead of grouchy attitudes. Without the early workers, my life wouldn't be filled with nearly as many conveniences.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Who Started all this Beauty Madness? by Kat Magendie

I flip through a magazine and realize it’s no longer strange to see clever ads for Botox and plastic surgery, the ones that make the decision seem a smart and savvy one for the up and coming woman of distinction. Why are we so hooked on “Beauty” and who started all this madness?

Let’s see. In ancient Babylon, not only the women but also the men wore eye shadow and eyeliner, darkened their lashes, curled their hair, and used henna for nail color. Ancient Grecian woman crushed berries to blush their cheeks and applied fake eyebrows made of ox’s hair. The Egyptians liked to show off their veins with blue "paint." Those girly Roman women made facial masks out of flowers, honey, wheat, and eggs. Oh, but the hardy Medieval women slapped bat’s blood to their faces (good god), while both men and women used pumice stones for toothbrushes (ouch). Beginning with the sixteenth century, women patted white lead on their faces to look “pale” (lord help them), and while they were at it they lightened their hair with lye--of course their fell out so they had to wear wigs.

Huhn. Well. Maybe a few lines and dark under-eye shadows aren’t so bad, considering what some will go through to look, um, good. We can laugh or say, “EEK!” at the ancient ways of beauty, but really, are we much better now? Today there is the aforementioned Botox and plastic surgery; and then, liposuction; hair plugs; weird crazy diets and supplements; stomach stapling and banding; “full body” lifts; lip plumper-outers that look as if the woman was stung in the lips by fifty-two hornets; cosmetic foot surgery to reshape the feet, for god's sake; and the uh, er, ahem, “female body parts” plastic surgery to beautify "down there," geez.

I smile at myself in the mirror. I’m not so bad. In fact, I’m grateful for the good genes my parents passed down to me. Good teeth, solid bone structure, healthy body. Yeah. Not so bad at all, considering the “cures” for what is the natural progression of our lives. I’ll take it…I’ll take me, just as I am. Be thankful for what you have, or else where will all this madness end?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Making Our Day by Nannette Croce

Recently we celebrated my parents’ 85th birthday. A momentous occasion though at times I sense my parents' ambivalence at having made it this far. The last of their siblings on both sides, used to large family gatherings just because it's Sunday, no need to wait for a special event, it seemed this year could never meet up to expectations.

So this birthday instead of a smaller group of people sitting around the table in a down-sized dining room, we surprised them with a a blast from the past––The Boss.

No, not that Boss. Our “Boss” is my Mom’s cousin. A barber by trade, every Sunday he visited his suburban cousins and their neighbors, giving cheap haircuts. Short on formal education and pretense but long on humor and street wisdom, he always put me in mind of Red Skelton as he entered the house each week whistling some operatic aria, dispensing hard pieces of Bazooka bubble gum to the kids, rough housing with over-stimulated dogs and telling the most hilarious stories usually involving his broken down, several-times-used Edsel.

With him unable to drive and my parents’ difficulty getting around, we hadn’t seen him in ages and didn’t know what to expect, but when he walked in last weekend, whistling a tune and chiding my parents for living someplace so hard to find, the years melted away. He’d left the bubble gum in his other coat. Our teeth can’t handle it anyway. He––and now his daughter––regaled us with stories we somehow hadn’t heard or had, perhaps, forgotten.

Boss is 92.

Thanks for making our day!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Grand Thing by Barbara Quinn

I’m going to be a grandma. My son, Bret, and daughter-in-law, Tricia, are expecting their first child at the end of October. Oh, this is terrific news. It was only last July that we were all dancing at their wedding. Now I cannot wait to meet little Brisha which is what I’ve been calling the babe, the perfect blend of Bret and Tricia – Brisha!

Bret is my only child and I’ve been so lucky to have him. He’s always been a family type of guy. Even when he was a kid he’d talk about what he would do with his own kids. That always made me happy and now here he is about to be a Dad, and me about to become Grandma Quinn, and my mom about to become Great-Grandma Ferrara. We spent some time over the last few days letting all the Great Uncles and Great Aunts and their children know about the upcoming big event. This is the kind of news that it’s good to share.

I’ve seen the ultrasound pictures of the little blob that is to be my grandchild. They reminded me of my own ultrasounds taken when I was pregnant with Bret. Those first baby pictures are amazing. And now, the pictures can be much clearer.

Suddenly I’m noticing baby things again. All the little clothes, gadgets, and toys are vying for my attention.

The earth turns, the seasons pass, and sometimes good and lovely things do happen. Today I am grateful for life itself.

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