Thursday, March 31, 2011

Because of Joe


March is drawing to an end. It's been a different kind of month. Some good. Some not. I'm just posting here real fast to let you know Because of Joe has been re-released by Wild Rose Press in digital format. It's got a lovely new cover.


I'm working on things, easing my way into retirement. I'm enjoying it, but...like I said, different.


See you next time, with more to say. I promise!


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rest in peace, Ms. Taylor



I didn’t like Elizabeth Taylor’s voice. I had no respect for her throw-away attitude about marriage. Even as a kid, reading “Photoplay” magazine when my mother wasn’t looking, I was both appalled and held on the cusp of disbelief by her excesses. Other than National Velvet and the original Father of the Bride, I don’t think I ever watched one of her movies all the way through.


But, Lord, she was gorgeous. No amount of surgical enhancement will ever be able to replicate those violet eyes. The big hair that went out of favor with everyone else years ago never looked out of place on her.


When she was married to Eddie Fisher, I read an article about her in one of the “big” magazines of the day. (They really were big, too; Life, Look, and Saturday Evening Post had enough content to last you all afternoon.) She was getting ready to go somewhere and her feet were in pain from an illness or a surgery—I think she had all of them at one time or other—but she slipped them into spike heels, saying, “First things first.”


I didn’t agree with her about the shoes—I’m very fond of comfort—but it was a lesson in priorities. Sometimes all the i’s can’t be dotted or the t’s crossed, but you still need to go ahead and do what you have to do.


Another quote from her came from a talk show she was on once—I think it was probably Oprah. In a Q & A session, an audience participant asked her a personal question. Ms. Taylor just smiled demurely and said, “A lady never tells.”


Although her adventures in marriages, both her own and other people’s, precluded me thinking of her as a lady—at least defined in any way I understood—I have come to appreciate her response. I wish more celebrities would use it.


On the day of her death, someone called her the “greatest movie star.” I agree with that. No one, including Ms. Taylor herself, thought she was the greatest actress. But she was always the star. Today’s performers show up on red carpets with gazillions of dollars worth of borrowed jewelry and clothing, revealing all kinds of body parts. One of them even dropped the f-bomb when she accepted an Oscar. There are, it seems, no limits to what they will do to gain attention. All Elizabeth Taylor had to do was show up.


In her later years, she became a philanthropist and—I can’t think of a better way to put this—a friend. She probably did more toward the funding of AIDS research than nearly anyone else. She left her four children, all of whom grew up under the umbrella of her scandal-riddled life, a legacy of generosity, love, and kindness.

I think maybe I was wrong. She was, after all, a lady. Rest in peace, Elizabeth Taylor.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nothing new under the sun...


I’m in a strange kind of mood today. It’s Sunday morning, the time I usually sit staring out the front window, picking at my cuticles, and wondering what I can possibly write about this week that I haven’t written about before.

Except it’s not the same time. It’s an hour later this week. At the rate I’m going, my hair will still be wet when I get to church and I might still be wearing this robe that’s seen better days. Judging by the eastern sky, which I get up and look at when I grow tired of the view out the front window, it might still be dark outside.

But I’ve written about Daylight Savings Time before. I hated it when I wrote about it. Still do.

I check the news online in the morning before I do much of anything else. The horror of earthquakes and tsunamis contributes to my melancholy mood. Is this something humankind has caused over the years, by messing with things that should maybe have been left alone? I don’t have a single scientific brain cell, nor do I have facts of any kind to back up that thought. But I still wonder, though I think I’ve written about that before.

I read the political section of the news and flinch at its content. I was a union member for most of the years of my working life. I wasn’t lazy, never got rich, never expected payment I had not earned. Neither did most of the people I knew. There are some, of course, who take advantage of whatever system is there, but it doesn’t have to do with them belonging to a union; it has to do with who they are.

I have kids and friends who are teachers and grandkids in the public school system. I spent Friday morning at the elementary school just up the road, cutting quilt blocks for students to decorate with Dr. Seuss characters. They listened, laughed, and learned. I enjoyed. Earlier in the year, I spent a day with high schoolers. Many of them did not want to be there, they weren’t interested in someone old enough to be their grandmother who wrote a newspaper column and romance novels. But they listened, sometimes they laughed, some of them learned. I enjoyed. In those two visits, I doubt I did one thing to help even a single student to ace his or her ISTEP scores, but I don’t think their days were wasted. I know mine weren’t.

There are problems, lots of them, in public schools, but should those problems be solved on the statehouse floor by people whose agendas have more to do with other things than with what actually goes on in most classrooms? Or should they be solved by people whose primary interest is in covering all the educational bases rather than just some of them?

But I have written about politics and education before.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says there is nothing new under the sun. (Which did, two hours into my struggle with writing this, finally come up.) I imagine that’s true, and goodness knows, I don’t come up with much that’s new for this column. So maybe this week is just a reminder.

That if you dislike (or love, for that matter) Daylight Savings Time, you need to let the lawmakers know. They are there to represent their constituents, not their own personal interests; it’s up to you to tell them what you want.

That disasters are everywhere. They’re terrifying and large beyond what I can comprehend. Even though I’ve written about them before, I don’t want to do it again. If you pray, please do. If you give, please do that, too.

That politics and education are everywhere, too. The bad part is, politics have grown too important and education not important enough. We need to get our priorities straight once and for all. That way, even though I might write about politics and education again, I’d be able to write funny. Because it’s not funny right now. Not the least little bit.

And I guess I need to be reminded that not all days are happy ones and not all moods are good. That—Ecclesiastes again—there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Maybe this time of earthquakes and internal strife is our time to mourn. I hope we dance soon. And then I’ll write about it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Retirement's learning curve

I like learning, which is a good thing, because there’s a definite learning curve to being retired.

First thing you need to figure out, said my friend Cindy, is to say No. If the request is for something you don’t want to do, just don’t do it. This would be a whole lot easier, I’ve discovered, if I didn’t want to do everything at least once. So far, I haven’t had to say No because I haven’t wanted to. (Except for when another friend, Debby, suggested skydiving. I have a vein of cowardice that runs full width and very deep.)

Second thing on the short list of learning is to make a list. If you live in the country, as I do, and don’t intend to move inside city limits, as I don’t, you need to make a list of Things To Do before you go to town. Filling the car with gas takes too much of a retirement check to even think of driving 26 miles round trip for only one thing. Usually, when I get home, I will give my husband all the details of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. The other day, I just said, “I stopped at eight places!” and started to tell him what they were. Duane said that was good, but he didn’t particularly care to hear about all eight of them. I don’t know what his problem was.

Third, in addition to making a list, make sure you keep a calendar. (While you’re at it, remember where the calendar is.) I keep one in my purse and one on the laundry room wall. What is unfortunate is that sometimes the information on both calendars doesn’t jive and I end up needing to be two places at once. I managed this just fine when the kids were growing up (refer to an old column—I’ve told you about this way too often), but I’m not so good at it anymore.

Fourth, establish a routine. I only say this because I’m almost certain it’s a good idea. But I haven’t done it yet as I’ve discovered that not having a routine is really fun.

Fifth, be careful what you commit to. I told Duane that when I was retired, I would devote 15 minutes a day to housework. This is not a joke; it is an illustration of just how much I don’t like “domestic engineering.” At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I will say I have stuck to that. Some days, like the ones when I clean out a junk drawer, I’ve nearly doubled the 15 minutes. Other days, I kind of stretch out how long it takes to make the bed because I really don’t want to do anything else that has to do with…you know…housework. When I get the aforementioned routine established, I’m going to cut back to 10 minutes.

Sixth, when you wake up and it’s snowing, it’s perfectly all right to roll over and go back to sleep. Or get up and drink coffee and not feel guilty. Either one works. You can also do this when it’s not snowing.

Seventh, cooking is fun when you’re retired. So is looking up recipes and deciding maybe you’ll try them later. Or not.

Eighth, it’s amazing how much stuff you can consign to Goodwill or Salvation army in 15 minutes. And if you get the bag into the car to deliver before someone else gets home, he’ll never miss it. You can put it at the end of your list of errands you ran while you were saving gas, and he will have stopped listening before you get to, “I gave away the jeans you haven’t worn since 1977,” anyway.

Ninth, if your mind wanders and you can’t remember what you were going to say next, it’s okay to just…uh…

Till next time.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Word of the week: consistency...or maybe not

The word for the day is “consistency.” I never realized, until I was pouring cereal this morning, how often consistency—or lack thereof—shows up.

I’m cheap. Oh, not that way—I’m way too old to even go there—but cheap in that I’d rather pay two bucks for a generic item than three for a name brand. Except for sometimes. Like when cheap cereal has a different consistency than the name brand. I may feel a little silly paying more to have something feel right on my tongue, but I still pay it.

I don’t consider myself a picky eater (though my mother always did), but I won’t eat mashed potatoes with lumps, large curd cottage cheese, or tapioca pudding made from the bigger size of ball bearings. And yes, I know they’re not real ball bearings; they’re pearls, but I always thought ball bearings sounded like more fun. Whichever term you use, it’s all in the consistency.

When I was raising kids, everything I read, heard, and figured out for myself had to do with consistency. Whatever you said the first time, you needed to stick to it. If the curfew was midnight, that’s what it meant every time; it didn’t mean eleven minutes after. No allowances were to be made for being caught by a train, running out of gas, or having too much fun and losing track of the time.

I’m learning to make quilts, which is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. The first lesson in making quilts is to sew with a consistent and precise quarter-inch seam allowance. I’m not there yet, by any means. My blocks tend to be a little crooked even though I’ve just about worn out my seam ripper.

Most of us want consistency in the work place. Preferential treatment leaves dissent and ill will in its wake; so does making a scapegoat out of someone.

Consistency in weather is something Hoosiers laugh at. Like promises in politics, legitimate gas prices, and no-calorie chocolate cake, it would be nice, but I’m just about positive it’s not going to happen.

Which leads me to think maybe consistency is overrated.

As in refusing to eat food because its lumps bother me is something that I would probably think was goofy if someone else said it. Aren’t you glad you didn’t?

As in, though I should have been a lot more consistent when the kids were growing up, that particular ship has already sailed. If I had it to do over again, I might do a better job. Then again, I might not. I really like the end product that was achieved without consistency.

I’ve made three queen-size quilts and lots of child-size ones. To date, no one has complained because my seams are crooked.

Even in the workplace, where we would all hope for equality, compassion has its place. Sometimes rules need to be bent or downright broken; sometimes one employee is more important than another; sometimes you just need to damn the torpedoes and do the right thing.

Which leads me to—my goodness, I’m doing way too much thinking for one short column—the truth of the matter. In all but the question of weather and possibly food, if we usually do the right thing, or try to, consistency will take care of itself.

Till next time.


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