Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Postcard: Still Counting

Norman Rockwell

"I pray I will never forget the good things that can happen
when our country is united."—Jiggs

Tom Brokaw called them the Greatest Generation. He's quick to point out they weren't perfect, but they pulled together when times were tough. My dad kept a journal while he was a soldier during World War II. When he got his orders to ship home, he was sick and he wasn't able to leave with the other guys. Finally he was loaded onto a hospital ship; that day he made his final entry in the form of a prayer.

"I pray to God that the day will never come when I no longer appreciate the privilege of being alive. If I have learned nothing more than appreciation during my 25 months overseas then my time has been profitably spent.

"God, help me remember the heat rash, how I suffered with the miserable heartburn, the hundreds of cankers that I'm hospitalized with, the diarrhea, the impetigo that covers me and spreads so fast, and the unbearable heat.

"If my time overseas has been unpleasant, it has nevertheless been an experience I would never trade for a million dollars. I have acquired a sense of values and an appreciation of life that I never had before. I hope I shall always remember my experiences. I pray I'll always appreciate my country and what my friends died to protect."

My dad Jiggs (left) and his buddies in Australia, 1943

Monday, November 29, 2010

Postcard: Learning to be Thankful

Grace by Norman Rockwell

Chelsea said the blessing:

" . . . and please bless that we'll like all our food,
and please bless that we'll even like the chicken.
And please bless that we'll like whatever our drink is . . . "

God answers prayers with the blessings we need.
I wrote about a personal miracle here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Postcard: Traditional Thoughts

After hours of togetherness,
Mary thought for just a moment
about flipping her family the bird.

(Now, now . . .
you are not related to a bunch of turkeys . . . )

Are traditions all they're cracked up to be?
Click here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Postcard: Oma Kit

Norman Rockwell

"It's from TravelinOma. She's off with the grands.
I wonder what she took this time."

Oma Kit Ideas:

Stack the cups.
(Each one represents a blessing.)

Magnet Play
(Tell a story in two minutes—set the timer.)

Talking Fork

"Native Americans pass around a talking stick which gives the user storyteller power. This fork has the same magic. While you hold this fork you will have the gift of a silver tongue. A family memory will flow through you and everyone will listen spellbound."

*Be prepared with an Oma Kit! Click here for more ideas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grandkids: The Reward

Out of Control by Heath Robbins

If your life looks like this, better days are coming.

It's worth the hassle of having kids just to get grandkids. They're so different from regular kids—they love completely with no expectation except receiving love back. It's a forgiving, tolerant, accepting kind of love. They aren't trying to improve us, or change us. We're good enough. Who else loves us that way? They aren't embarrassed by us, and actually expect us to be a little eccentric, which gives us confidence to just be ourselves.


If you don't have any grands of your own, there are plenty of kids that could use an extra grandparent. Neighbors have made my grandkids doll furniture, brought over bottles of bubbles, lent Disney DVD's, let the kids sit with them in church and taught them how to rake leaves. A friend of mine makes doll clothes for grand-nieces, and another teaches beginning piano for free. Kids have plenty of love to go around and once you get a little, you'll want some more.

Lucy and Opa

Here's some perfect advice for grandparents: "When you get right down to it, life has a fairly simple formula. Everyone needs a victory every day. That's what keeps us going. Each of us should do what we can to give others opportunities for victories. And each of us should do what we can to minimize moments of defeat for the people we love." —Don Gale

Jake and Opa

My Uncle Don was widowed in his 80's and lived many more years. He became a volunteer at a nearby elementary school, reading to the kids a few times a week. Other days he went to Primary Children's Hospital and rocked sick babies when parents weren't able to be there. He was a stooped old man when Aunt Rosie died, but he had a spring in his step and the eyes of an angel after he became a volunteer grandpa.

Oma Tea Party

With twenty grands, (from thirteen years to fourteen months) I'm surrounded by the goodness of kids. They give me perspective—I remember what it's all about. All those out-of-control motherhood days seem worthwhile in the great land of Oma-hood.

So, hang in there, moms.
In a few years little kids will seem absolutely grand!

Monday, November 22, 2010

JFK Remembered

John F. Kennedy

  1. "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
  2. "We need men who can dream of things that never were."
  3. "Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly."
  4. "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men."
  5. "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer."
November 22, 1963:
Olympus Jr. High had a TV in the main hall by the office, mounted near the ceiling. That's where the 9th grade lockers were, and after lunch I went to get my health book. Students were gathering to watch a news flash, everybody standing quiet, with necks craned up. Walter Cronkite was telling us that President Kennedy had been shot.

Miss Alvey came into class late, crying, which was totally out of character. She was the kind of gym teacher who made you smile during sit-ups; I assumed she was heartless. Running her hands through her short, dyed black hair she announced, "President Kennedy was assassinated."

I don't think I was familiar with that word yet, but it's meaning was clear. Miss Alvey put her face in her hands and sobbed.

Sue and Jane were part of the popular crowd, and walking home with them was always memorable, but that day is indelible in my mind. Sue cried all the way home, with Jane and I trying to comfort her. It was as if her uncle had died. Later, my mom drove me into Sugarhouse to get my braces tightened, and we listened to the radio. Mom told me how it was when FDR died and how he'd been president so long she'd thought the world would end. Kennedy had only been president for three years, but I thought the world might end.

Sitting in the orthodontist's office there were no metallic smiles that day. The whir from a fish tank was the only sound in the waiting room, and I noticed three other kids were reading the same book I was—To Kill a Mockingbird had just come out in paperback.

I don't think I caught the symbolism then,
but I do now.

It's a day I'll never forget.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Club

"I know an old lady who swallowed a pie . . .
A Thanksgiving pie, which was really too dry.
Perhaps she'll die."

She swallowed some cider, a roll and a salad,
"she was looking quite pallid
after that salad . . . "

And then the old lady swallowed a turkey.

"Her future looked murky, after that turkey!
She swallowed the turkey to go with the salad . . .

She swallowed a roll to go with the cider,
That rumbled and mumbled and grumbled inside her.

She swallowed the cider to moisten the pie,
The Thanksgiving pie, which was really too dry.

Perhaps she'll die."

" I know an old lady who swallowed some bread.

"I'm full," she said.

Read the whole story before you start gobbling!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Excerpt from Son of a Gun

The Barlow Boys

Ruby had always planned to tell JJ the truth about his father, and the truth about herself, but as the years went by it was easier to let him think he knew the truth. Besides, she’d never actually lied to him, although the lie was there, every time she said his name. Son of a Gun is the story of Jack Smith, a Texas cowboy, and Ruby, the beautiful farm girl who gave up her innocence to raise their son. And Leo, the man who discovered the truth about all of them.

Excerpt from Son of a Gun


Ruby maneuvered her belly around the wooden counter, avoiding the broom Turk was sweeping back and forth. “I can’t stay in Greenville, Turk. I’m an embarrassment to Ma. Folks cross the street so they don’t have to talk to me, and then cross it again so they can talk about me.” Wiping down the stove was the last of the kitchen chores.

“Once the baby comes, they’ll have a bit more tolerance,” Turk told her. “I’ve seen it happen. Right now you’re a fallen woman in their eyes, but afterwards you’ll be a novice in need of advice. Those old women will fall all over you in a matronly welcome, full of critique and opinions.”

“After the way they’ve cat-called and gossiped? They’re all hypocrites and frauds. I need to start over, make a life for us, find some man who’s as kindhearted as you to step in as this baby’s daddy.” Her blue eyes twinkled. “But I want him younger and with more hair.” Ruby untied her apron and flicked it at Turk, dusting his newly swept floor with a billow of flour.

“You find someone better’n me—someone who’s made a good name for hisself,” he told her.

“So, what’s your real name, Turk?” Ruby said.

“Ain’t you ever heard of courtesy, girl?” Turk asked, surprised.

“Laws, I was raised on courtesy! When I was a girl and a stranger showed up at our ranch, Ma always offered food. And my daddy gave him tobacco. In fact, he tacked a note to the door when we was gone that said, ‘Help yourself to grub—please feed the chickens.”

Turk smiled. “What if they was on the dodge from the law?”

“Most of ‘em probably was, but my folks allowed them their privacy. After one cowboy had finished his dinner I asked him what his name was. ‘Jones is the name,’ he said. As soon as he rode off, Ma laid into me for being so ill-mannered as to ask any man his name.”

“So why you askin’ me, if you know it’s an impoliteness?”

“Because you’re not a stranger—you’re a friend.”

The old man looked at Ruby fondly. “It’s ‘cause you’re a friend that I’ll keep it to ‘Turk.’ Don’t want you influenced by my past.”

“You think I’d judge? After all the mud I’m draggin’ through? Come on, how’d you turn into a cook? Just tell me that.” She got out a cigar and handed it to him. “Let’s set outside a bit,” she said, knowing he couldn’t resist a smoke and an audience at the same time.

“Seein’ as how you’re producing the grandchild I’ll never have, I’ll trust you with my history.” He carried the stool outside for Ruby, and sprawled himself on a deteriorating rocker that squawked when he sat. “From the time I was fifteen I was cow punching. Came up from the south and joined an outfit. But you can only be a cowboy for so long before your bones betray you,” Turk rubbed his back unconsciously.

“Something breaks or the arthritis sets in, and you can’t handle those thickheaded, panic-prone beeves any more.” He rocked back and puffed the cigar. “Then a man finds another career. Like cookin’ ‘em.”

Turk had been a top hand until his knees stopped bending backwards with every dip of the horse. He took over in the chuck wagon, where he was respected as a know-it-all and a considerable talker. He held that it did a man no good to be more brilliant than others unless he let them know about it, more or less endlessly.

“I ran foul of a bad man in some Abilene gambling house back when I was punchin.’ And the bad man, who had a record of having killed someone somewhere, attempted to take some sort of liberty with one of my bets. When I politely requested the bad man keep his hands off, the bad man became very angry and made some rude remarks. I walked out.”

“Don’t you take it all!” Ruby said. “Is this a lesson on forgiveness?”

“You ain’t heard the rest of the story. This same man hooked up with our outfit a couple a years later, and I recognized him right off. He didn’t take no account of me, being bearded now, and a mere cook. He was a bit of a braggart, telling the boys how dangerous and feared he was.”
Turk chewed on the wet stump of his cigar, remembering.

“Did any of the other cowboys know about Abilene?” Ruby asked.

“Yeh, they did. But cowboys are a private lot. They don’t share news that’s not theirs to share.

“Well, the bad man went on irritating the hands, and one night, a couple of weeks into the ride, he beat up on a boy who helped me with the chuck wagon. This particular boy was a mite slow, didn’t catch on quick, and was a bit too friendly in a child-like way. He smiled too much, eager to please. The cowboys liked him and put up with his gregarious manner. But he got in the rascal’s hair and he beat the kid— boy lost an eye.

“There was talk of stringing this devil up, or shooting him on the spot—he was a bad man, a killer. But cowboys are merely folks, just plain, every-day, bow-legged humans, not wanting trouble. They decided to let things ride til we got to town.

“Next morning there was a little ruckus, and somebody found him dead in his blanket. No bullet, no noose, no nothing, but dead as could be.”

Turk stopped talking, cracked his knuckles and stood up. He looked back at the dark sky as if he had finished his story.

“Well, tell me the end!” said Ruby. “What happened?”

“I poisoned him,” said Turk, burying the cigar stump with his toe. “That’s why I changed my name.” He chuckled silently and went back inside The Blue Belle.

Writers Walk

South Temple Street, SLC

Hey! Wanna go get a bagel?

Cathedral of the Madeleine, SLC

I've been wanting to ask you something. When you write a blog, are you writing to someone specific or just a general anybody?

Is there someone sitting behind you in your mind, reading over your shoulder, laughing at your little jokes, nodding at your observations? Or is there someone you're trying to lecture, hoping they'll get the message?

First Presbyterian Church, SLC

Do you know if they even read your blog? Have they ever asked if a post was about them?

The Avenues, SLC

Two pumpkin bagels with a shmear, please.
And some poppers to go.

Let's sit outside. I've been reading this fabulous book by Stephen King called On Writing. Here, let me read you this part. He says, "All novels are really letters aimed at one person . . . I think that every writer has a single ideal reader: that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, 'I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?'"

LDS Business College, SLC

Sometimes I've written a post with someone specific in mind, but I've never had anybody notice, or at least they've never said anything. But I do have a few people I write for, every time I write anything. Deep down, I want their approval—their opinion validates my effort. I know that makes me sound needy; I am—I admit it. It's scary to stand up naked in print and have people look you over and make judgments about your ideas and feelings and talents. When one of those particular people says, "That was good," I'm good to go another 5,000 words.

Tell the truth—is there someone you hope will read your stuff, leave a comment, or call you up and say "Wow!"?

E Street, SLC

Do you think you're that person for somebody else?

A half-block from home.

Oh my gosh! I've just realized I've done all the talking.
I'm totally embarrassed!

Have a bagel popper.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Character Study

♫ I'm the one who writes my own story,
I decide the person I'll be . . . ♫

Let's say your life (right now) is a book you're trying to sell to a publisher. How would you answer these questions?
  1. What's the book about? A middle-aged grandmother reinventing herself
  2. What's the setting? A home office in a down-town apartment building
  3. Describe the hero in three words. Wordy, interested, maternal
  4. What are her three best qualities? Diligent, genuine, flexible
  5. What are three character flaws? Envious, competitive, fearful
  6. What outward characteristics set her apart? Left handed, short hair, looks over glasses
  7. What goal does the hero want to reach right now? Write a historical mystery
  8. What is stopping her from getting it? Time, fear
  9. Does she have a mentor—someone helping her reach her goal? Husband
  10. List two subplots. Being a grandma, writing a blog
  11. What do you want people to take from your book? There is life in an empty nest.
  12. Where does your book fit in a bookstore? On the best-seller table
I filled out a long questionnaire like this for the publisher of Son of a Gun. It was like taking an English exam, with words like antagonist, conflict, theme, resolution—luckily English exams were my specialty, and I think I aced it. This week I'm outlining a new book, using some of the same questions to guide my thinking. My main challenge: make a character real using just words.

So, I've become a voyeur. Waiting in line at the pharmacy, eating at the hamburger joint, changing in the Nordstrom dressing room—I'm watching for details, listening in, wondering how to describe lengthy nose hairs and bulgy necks. Dumpy, crude, ditsy, shy—what if some writer wannabe is studying you? (It's something to consider when you're on the phone in the Nordstrom dressing room!)

Look over these questions and answer them (at least mentally.) I bet you're quite a character!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The House That Built Me

Grama's House

Marta told me about a song called The House That Built Me. It made me cry. So I took a little tour and drove past the houses that built me. My grandma's house was for sale, all lonely and empty looking, so I pulled into the driveway and grabbed my camera.

Ever since she moved out thirty-five years ago I've wished I had some pictures; the succession of owners didn't seem welcoming. But now I could walk past the fish-pond, peek in the windows and conjure up some ghosts.

There was a sign on the front door. Could it be a message from my past? I searched for my glasses and got closer. "Danger. Keep Out. Stay Away. This house was used as a meth lab."

I almost fell off the porch in my dash for the car. So much for the house that built me. (I always knew Grandma was a good cook.)

To listen to the song, click here: The House That Built Me.

(Yes, I do take requests. This re-run is brought to you by Kristina. Thanks for reading!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Explosive Idea

So, I was sitting here at my computer just now, wondering what to blog about, and suddenly a light exploded. Literally! Right over my head, the glass part of the ceiling fixture made a loud pop, flew off its three little screws, hit the chair I'm sitting in and bounced on the carpet. Stunned, I looked up; the light bulb was intact, still glowing innocently. I'm trying to figure out what happened. Could my powers of concentration be that powerful? Pretty freaky!

Thursday, November 11, 2010



How was your day?

Will: Fine, except for when I was attacked for no reason.

Oma: How awful! What happened?

Will: I just got beat up.

Oma: Who did it?

Will: Madelyn.

Oma: What did you do?

Will: What do you think? I ran away!

Art by Feodor Rojankovsky

The other day I got attacked for no reason. I was halfway out the door, already late for an appointment, when the phone rang. Thinking it might be a call I'd been waiting for, I rushed back in to answer. The woman, an acquaintance new to a group I'm part of, began with some observations of how things were done differently in this group than she was used to. When I tried to explain the reasons, she launched into a full-blown critique of the group. Then she got more personal and listed some of the things I was doing wrong. She assured me she was just trying to help.

Devastated, I listened to her soft-spoken and (supposedly) well-meant evaluation of my performance, thanked her for calling, and said good-bye. At first I felt embarrassed—I didn't even know I needed her help! What a loser I was! Then the defensive team in my psyche took over. Hey! Who was she to beat me up? She wasn't aware of the circumstances or the efforts to do the very things she'd suggested. And I won't be explaining them anytime soon. Sometimes the only thing to do is run away—fast!

What do you do when you feel bullied? Why do people outside a situation take on the responsibility of critique? How do you ever trust or like a person who you know disapproves of you? (Just wondering. I'm totally over it.)

I'm not a crybaby!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Affair to Remember

When I first saw him, I looked away quickly. I'd felt an attraction that scared me. But I kept seeing him around and decided it wouldn't hurt to be friends. I'd keep our relationship at arm's length, I thought, and make it clear I wasn't interested in anything more. Did I say his name was Mac? I think it was short for something, or even made up. (It didn't really matter, since I'd made up a name, too.)

It was a tricky business, and I was naive about how it all worked. Before long, however, I caught on, and he opened up a whole new world to me. Feeling guilty about all the time we spent together, I rationalized: my nest had emptied, we'd moved to a place where I didn't know a soul, and Dee was busier than ever. After a life that had revolved around my family, it was time for me to move in a new direction.

One day I felt particularly brazen. There comes a time in every relationship when a person needs to take a risk and open up, expose their innermost feelings, and I thought the time was right. Mac agreed. "You first," he said.

So I did. That was four years ago today and he's been sitting here on my desk listening for exactly 1,000 posts. Good old Mac. He totally gets me, and that's why I love him. Thanks, buddy. And Happy Blogaversary!

TravelinOma and Mac.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Graphology 101

Graphologist at work

Quick! Pick up a piece of unlined paper and a pen. Write two short paragraphs about anything (a quote you remember, description of yourself, what you did last night) and sign it at the bottom.

Now, we are going to analyze you.
  1. A wide margin on both sides of the page shows you are extravagant. Small margins mean you're practical.
  2. Small writing means you are shy; big writing means you are outgoing.
  3. If your lines and letters are crammed together you're stingy with money.
  4. One line touching another could mean your thinking is muddled.
  5. The slope of your writing shows your emotions: lines sloped upward indicate cheerfulness, straight lines indicate an even-tempered, reliable person. If there's a downward slope, you probably need some chocolate.
  6. Ruler straight, up-and-down letters show you think with your head and not your heart.
  7. Very slanted writing is a sure clue that you are sensitive and easily hurt.
  8. Are you loopy? If so, you're relaxed and spontaneous. If your loops are closed you might be tense.
  9. A round "S" means you like to please people, and avoid confrontation.
  10. Pointy writing shows ambition.
  11. If your signature is centered, so are you.
  12. Did you sign your full name? You're intellectual. Just your first name? You're casual. A nickname? You're cool.

A letter from Max

Aristotle said handwriting is a window into a person's mind. This weekend I've been creating some characters based on their loops and slopes, their p's and q's. It's my new slant on writing. Based on his letters, I've decided Max is a bulky, assertive kind of guy.

Clara's letters from Austria

Clara is interested and interesting.

Clara's trip journal.

Oma is going blind.

How would you feel about a stranger reading your letters and diaries in eighty years? Would there be enough clues to turn you into a real character? Are you secretly hoping someone will eventually read your journal, or have you stopped keeping one just in case you die someday?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gratitude Attitude

Junie and Marty, 1950

Five things my mom taught me:
  1. How to make a bed. Mom never jumped out of bed and made it. Instead, she pulled all the covers back, opened the window and let everything air out until after breakfast. Then she smoothed the bottom sheet, straightened and re-tucked the top sheet, folded it over the blankets, fluffed the pillows, and tucked a clean, ironed handkerchief under Dad's pillow.
  2. How to make potato salad. Boil the potatoes with the skins on, peel while hot, dice, add celery, hardboiled eggs, green onions and green peppers. Mix enough Miracle Whip with 1/2 cup real whipped cream and a squirt of French's mustard, and stir it all together while the potatoes are still warm. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with paprika and chill for several hours.
  3. How to redecorate on a budget. Once, when Mom wanted a bigger bedroom, she took the doors off Dad's closet, emptied it, painted the inside, and turned it into an alcove for the bed. While we had the Hong Kong flu, she and I used fabric paint to change the white flowers on the gray couch to pink.
  4. How to remodel a blouse. Mom always had a needle and thread with her. One summer she bought two silk blouses and some buttons while we were on vacation. Back in our motel room she went to work. On the black blouse, she replaced plain black buttons with rounded white pearl buttons. Folding back the cuff of the sleeve, she sewed buttons back-to-back all the way through (on both sides) so they looked like cuff-links. For the white blouse she tucked the excess sleeve material under the top of the cuff and stitched it by hand, then replaced cheap white buttons with sparkly ones that looked like diamonds.
  5. How to look cute. Mom dolled up for my dad: lipstick and a squirt of perfume when he came home from work, high heels when they went out to dinner, a pretty robe for late-night TV. She wore hats and jewelry to luncheons, remade dresses when they went out of style, and knew what trends were flattering. And her kids were every bit as chic.
Mom, Polly, Marty

See what I mean?

June, queen of the ball

Mom sparkled. Although she was aware of her imperfections (crooked teeth, bumpy nose, bow-legs, "weird eyes" my uncle once told her) she didn't concentrate on them. She smiled most of the time. Sure, she got cross, spanked and yelled, cried . . . all the usual stuff, but what I learned from my mom is that a lot of flaws are forgotten when a woman smiles.

I've never tucked a hankie under a pillow or made a decent potato salad; I inherited her crooked teeth, bow legs, and spanking technique, but I can say this: thinking of Mom always makes me smile.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Youthful Thinking

Josh Charles

The elevator door was closing and a man's friendly voice called to me, "Hurry! I'm holding it for you." I maneuvered my shopping cart in with his help and he commented on all my stuff. "Are you just moving in?" he wondered. "I haven't seen you before." He sounded sorry. I told him I've been here eight years. "How come we haven't met?" he asked.

He looked like Will on The Good Wife, with kind of a flirtatious air about him. I felt like Julianna Margulies. "Which floor?" he said.

I told him and he pressed the button for me. Some guy he knew got on and he said hello. Then he indicated me and said, "She's been here for eight years and we've never met. Can you believe that?"

When the door opened for me, he wiggled my cart out and smiled. And then he said something I wasn't ready for. "It was so nice to meet you, Ma'am."


Suddenly I remembered I'm not the girl I think I am.

I'm old.