Look it up!

                              Lost in the Jungle

Do you like to do research when you’re writing? Sometimes, I get so involved in research that I don’t get much writing done. How about you?

I might write something like, “A sharp rap on the door interrupted the silence. Which one was it this time? She raised her hospital bed up.”

“Okay,” I tell myself. Maybe there’s a more specific way to show her raising the hospital bed. So, I stop writing and look up “hospital beds.” Several pictures pop up, showing the wonders of their particular brand of hospital bed.

Hmm. I see some words that I might be able to use –“powered rotor assist bed,” “Gel mattress.” Bed exit position” I tell myself I should look that up and see what I can find out. 

I decide to look up “mechanisms on a hospital bed.”  It says, a mechanism for raising and lowering the height of a patient bed includes a threaded shaft upon which a pulley support is raised and lowered and a chain and pulley system which transfers vertical displacement of the pulley support to the patient support surface.

I never was good in Physics class but I can imagine a pulley system. I’m not sure I will use any of this, but who knows?  On another site, I find out that mattresses are on sale for $899. Interesting, but will I use it in my story? I hold on to the tidbit because I may write something later where this information be useful.

An option I could’ve selected while looking up the mechanisms for the beds dealt with grandfather clocks! Soon, I find myself clicking on various sites to see what other useless information is out there. I’m an optimist and jot down notes “just in case” I want the information later. I’m a hoarder of information.

                                We’re Dying Here!

Meanwhile, my characters are waiting. My story is stagnant, gathering dust. I’m the cheating lover who steps out on his girlfriend. I’ll get back to the story eventually, but for now, I want to play around, checking out sites like guys check out the girls in a bar. Which site do I like best? Does it have words I can use? Or a “friend” I can check out? Will this be a one night stand or am I likely to call on this site again?

                                  Lesson Learned

Research is important. I found that out when I wrote a story with Native American characters. I felt I was fairly familiar with Native culture and customs, having grown up with some Lakota from the Pine Ridge reservation. I wrote a scene that included a powwow. Luckily, I had a colleague who spoke Ponca and Omaha, even though she’s an Italian from New Jersey. She read my story and told me really messed up the powwow scene.

“It’s called ‘regalia’ not ‘costumes! It’s an insult to call what they wear ‘costumes.’ Costumes are what you wear when you’re Batman on Halloween!”

She told me that I had the description of the scene right, but I needed to change the word.

“Every feather, bead and color have meaning,” she said. “Usually related to ancestry or heritage.”

Even though I’d watched You Tube videos of powwows, I still got an important part wrong.

             Even Successful Writers Need to Research

Michael Crichton was one of my favorite authors for years. Loved all his books. I remember reading a medical mystery he wrote. I think it was A Case of Need. I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but I also lost some of my respect for Crichton when I read about a meconium aspiration baby. I’m a former NICU nurse and I took care of many  babies who’d breathed in meconium as they were born,  so I recognized what Crichton wrote about–a critical situation that can take days to resolve. Some babies die.

However, Crichton got the medical part wrong! I was disappointed because it seemed he didn’t do his research or had consulted with a “professional” who knew nothing about babies and the birthing process.

The internet shouldn’t be your sole resource for research. You can start there and get some ideas, even pick up some cool words to use that you hadn’t thought of. But, you need verification from other sources as well. Had Crichton checked with a neonatalogist and/or an obstetrician and then did follow-up, having them read that part to make sure it was accurate, his story would’ve rang true.

So, do your research for a better story. Add details that you discover as your research your setting details, your character details and your action details.

Native American display

Short Stories

Daisy and Mike computer 2006

I am on a roll! I have a couple new short stories out. Two in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and another in Voices from the Plains.

I slogged through NaNoWriMo last month and did better than I have in the past. Didn’t quite reach 50,000 words but came closer than I ever have in the past. I’ve always felt more like a short story writer than a novelist, but I’ve started a novel that my critique group says I should finish.

I like short stories because I find them easy to write. Plus, there’s a fairly strong market  for “shorts” now. Some publishers say, “the shorter the better.” I’ve dabbled in Flash Fiction, but I prefer writing the longer short stories. (Oxymoron?)  

My most recent story was published in Voices from the Plains, an anthology by the Nebraska Writers’ Guild. My story is called “The Gifts” and it’s about two lonely college students who spend Christmas together.

Chicken Soup for the Soul published a couple of my stories this year. One is in “Lessons from the Cat” and is about our ‘Holstein cat’ Daisy. She was quite a character.  Chicken Soup also published my story “Heavenly Connections” in the Amazing Mom book last summer. It’s about how I became a nurse even though I never thought I wanted to be a nurse.

I enjoy writing short stories because I have so many ideas for stories and I can finish one fairly quickly and move on to the next. I think I have WADS (Writers’ Attention Deficit Syndrome) I just made that up. I’m a former pediatric nurse. 

I have stories in nursing anthologies and magazines as well.

There are many opportunities for short stories. Don’t be afraid to try.

I receive an email called “Freedom with Writing.” I’m not sure how I got started with it, but they send a bi-monthly  list of publishers (magazines, anthologies, businesses, etc.) who are looking for authors to write articles or short stories related to specific themes. This month there are requests for stories about snow sports, mining, culture, news, art, and living abroad. They also tell how much publishers will pay if they accept your story.

So, sit down and start writing those short stories and see if you can add to your resume and, with luck, your bank account.


Did you NaNo?

I tried to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I made it further than I did last year, but still not the full 50,000 words! It was good practice in disciple, though. I’d figured out the number of words I’d need to write each day to meet the goal but life got in the way, as it often does. I’ll just have to try again.

One of my problems is I want it to be right the first time and that rarely happens. It’s ironic because I sometimes feel like I’m a better editor than a writer, especially when someone asks me to beta read or critique their work.

I’m really good at seeing how things work in other people’s writing but not in my own. A friend told me I just need to get it down on paper. “Throw up on the page,” she says. But the editor in me kicks in and I have a hard time doing that. I sometimes feel like the adage “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (Or in my case, “Those who can, write. Those who can’t, edit!”)


Teaching Memoir Class

My friend, Cheryl and I are teaching a non-credit class on Memoir at a community college. This is the third year we’ve done it. We make a good team because she is more left brained and I’m definitely right brained! She has to “herd the cats” once in a while when I go off on a tangent.

Many in the class are older people since it’s noncredit and the college offers a senior discount. Plus, many are interested in memoir since they want to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren.

This is our 5th week of the 8-week course. Our group is small this time, which makes it fun because we have more time to “free write” from prompts and discuss memoir. Cheryl and I take turns being the “lead” instructor.

This week, I’m the lead, so I’m organizing the material I plan to go over. Having taught it a few semesters, we have our classes pretty well set. It’s good to change some things up now and then, though. The students may be different but Cheryl and I get bored if we do the exact same thing every semester. But, we stick to the same information. We just “color” it a little differently each time.

Tonight I will be talking about research. The reaction of some people is “Augh!” But we have a good time, discussing how to add setting and emotion to your memoir by researching events, trends and styles of the time. The prompt I will have the students do tonight has elicited positive responses in the past.

I have them choose from the following events and write things they remember about that event.

  • The Assassination of John Kennedy
  • The First Moon Landing
  •  The Bombing of the World Trade Center

Then I ask them to write down the answers to these questions from memory:

  1.  What was the date and day of the week of the event?
  2. What time did it happen?
  3. Where did it take place?
  4. What was the weather like?
  5. What were you wearing that day?
  6. How old were you?
  7. How old were your parents?
  8.  Who was the anchorman or reporter who broke the news?

We share the answers and people are usually surprised at what they don’t remember. I make the point that that is why we do research when we write a memoir. It spices up the story if you can add details about world events or tidbits of information instead of writing, “Grandma was born in 1956 in Omaha, Nebraska.” By relating events of the time, it puts the reader in the era that the memoir is taking place.

I will also go over how to interview Grandma or whoever the memoir is about. By asking people to tell their stories, you can add dialogue to the memoir. Written documents, first person interviews or recordings are the gold standard, but if Grandma is dead, what do you do?

You can use representative dialogue if you don’t have access to the actual words. Capturing the “spirit” of what was said and the emotion of the speaker(s), brings color to the memoir.

I remind the students that memoir is in their POV (point of view). It’s their story even if the subject is primarily Grandma. The writer’s POV gives the reader insight into the author’s relationship to the subject.

In the early weeks of the class, we talk about “theme.” Memoir isn’t autobiography where you tell your life’s story from birth to the present. Memoir is a “slice of life” and has a theme. For example, the memoir I am currently working on is about my friend, Mary, who was killed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. My theme is “dealing with the sudden loss.”

In my memoir, I use backstory to show my relationship with Mary growing up together in small town Nebraska.  I use dialogue that is representative of what we talked about. I don’t have the actual words we said, but I know the “spirit” and the language/slang we used.

We have a lot of fun in the memoir class. Writing seems to create a bond between people. This year, two women returned to take the class again! I joked, saying, “Didn’t you guys learn anything the first time?” They laughed and said they wanted to take the class again because they had so much fun last year. Taking a non-credit class like our memoir class also motivates people to keep writing.

Each week, we cover a different aspect. So far, we’ve talked about journaling (first step in memoir! Get your thoughts down!) Mapping your story, using photographs to elicit memories. (A photograph can give you a lot of information. When you look at a photo, notice not only the people and how they are dressed, but what is the occasion? Does it look like it was summer or winter? Is there wallpaper on the walls. (Describing wall paper or books on a shelf can add to your setting.) Why do you think the picture was taken? Who do you think took the picture? All these things can add to your story.

We usually begin the class with a prompt. The prompts vary so that people can learn different ways of expressing things. In one of the first classes, we do the “Six Word Memoir” based on the legend that Hemingway was challenged to write a memoir in 6 words. He wrote: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.”

A later prompt is  “I am from” where we write several lines starting with “I am from…” like “I am from Floyd and Tina who took the train from NYC to North Platte, Nebraska.” “I am from small town Nebraska surrounded by alfalfa fields and the smell of livestock.” “I am from the University nursing program.” etc.

I enjoy teaching the non-credit course. I helps me hone my own writing skills as well as the joy of sharing stories with others.

Memoir is a very popular genre right now. Consider writing yours!


Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what yo have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” Natalie Goldberg

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

“Pirates were always going around searching for treasure. They never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating.” Humorist Jack Handey


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com






Setting the Scene in Your Story: The five senses

As you write your story, consider your character’s surroundings. What does your character see, hear, smell, touch and taste?

Think of a movie or television show you’ve seen and create a sensory list. “Show, don’t tell.” An example might be M*A*S*H, either the movie or television show. What do you see and hear as you watch the show? Can you imagine the smells? Setting uses all the senses, so think “See, hear, smell, touch and taste.”

Examples might include:

  • Sight
    •  the sight of helicopters crossing gray mountains, red crosses on khaki Army tents, ambulances hurrying to the landing pad, red crosses on their sides and roof. The perspective gets bigger as the helicopter starts to descend. Nurse and medics race, carrying empty canvas stretchers, camouflage netting over equipment near the pad,  Jeeps speed up the hill towards the helicopter, dust flying. All of this is “telling.” Think of ways to “show.” You will probably use some of the other senses to help “show” the scene.

“My Blue Heaven” in Korean played over the PA system as Hawkeye and BJ swung their golf clubs near the medical camp deep in the gray mountains. The sunny day was suddenly broken by the whop-whop-whop of helicopters approaching. Hawkeye looked up, then both men sprinted to camp and hopped into jeeps. Other vehicles marked with giant red crosses followed, racing to the helicopter pad.

The setting is shown using the actions of Hawkeye and BJ, the sunny day and the approach of the jeeps heading to the helicopter pad.

  • Sounds
    • music over the PA system, the whirl of the helicopter blades, rattle and rhythmic clatter of the blades, people yelling (music covers some), second helicopter sounds, Jeeps revving their engines.
  • Smells
    • fuel, dry dusty air, perspiration, blood (smells metallic), antiseptic, burning hair (smells like sulfur), body odors
  • Taste
    • dust, dry mouth, maybe someone in the scene is chewing gum or smoking a cigarette
  • Touch
    • hot metal jeep and helicopters, gritty feel of tarp, stretchers, wet sweaty skin, sticky viscous blood oozing, slimy blood clots, heat of the sun, wind blowing from helicopter, dirt pelting skin

All of the senses can help with setting.

Imagine the scene in your story and write down all the things you can think of that fit each category. Keep the list hand because there might be similar elements in other scenes. Or your list can trigger other ideas for a different story you work on later.

List items you might use in other stories like someone eating popcorn (touch, smell, taste, sound, sight) or Mom making a pot roast for dinner or exploring an old musty home or forest. As you make your senses list, refer to it when you are stuck and it will help spark your imagination.

Happy writing!


I attended a “Hooley” this afternoon, a sort of pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration. I met some nice people there and gave them my business card, telling them that the blog link on the back would take them to my Irish music blog. Au contraire! This is where they will end up. So, to my new Irish friends, the link I meant to give you is:  celticomaha.wordpress.com



Daisy Cat

Our beloved 18 year-old-cat left us this past week. It’s been hard. She was an amazing cat with so much personality. A hole is left in our hearts.

Daisy in box from Current Oct 2002

Daisy came to us through the Humane Society in 2001.

We had two cats when we moved back to Omaha from Chicago. Pepper, a beautiful gray cat, had been a part of our for seven years. I’d gotten her from a farm woman who ran a Bed and Breakfast between Lincoln and Omaha. I’d attended a retreat there and she told us that one of the cats had had kittens and we were welcome to take any or all of them. I chose a pretty gray kitty and surprised the boys (and my less-than-thrilled husband). The boys named her Pepper because of her coloring. She was a good kitty, but rather standoffish, especially to me. I think she held a grudge against me for taking her from the farm. An outdoor kitty at heart, she would glare at me as if to say, “Why did you bring be here?”

In 1996, my husband was transferred to the Chicago area. Pepper, used to being outdoors, left one day and was gone for several days. We worried because the suburb in which we lived had laws about pets and they allowed any homeowner to kill your cat if the animal trespassed on their property. We thought she was a goner for sure. I’d posted notices and let the sheriff and Humane Society know that we had lost our cat. Weeks went by and no Pepper. The boys were crushed.

I took them to the DuPage County Humane Society and they fell in love with a white cat named Sabrina. Sabrina was neurotic and didn’t know how to groom herself. (Bad when you’re a white cat!) I wondered if the previous owner had bathed her instead of letting her bathe herself.

Shortly after Sabrina joined our household, I received a call from a man in the next suburb over. He had Pepper! Apparently, she’d been hanging around the neighborhood because the nice people were feeding her delicious tuna and giving her all kinds of treats. The man said he’d been on vacation and had just gotten home. He saw my “lost cat” notice.

The boys and I drove over to pick up Pepper. On the way, we commented on the path she must’ve taken to get there. She would’ve had to cross three busy 4-lane streets, get by the Canadian geese that congregated at two large retention ponds, cross an industrial park area and finally come to the neighborhood where she was found by crossing another major thoroughfare.

Pepper seemed glad to see the boys and me. For a day or two, I was her best friend. But…there was another kitty in the house. Where did she come from? Pepper did not get along with Sabrina. Confused, both cats vied for their territory. I was here first! Over time, they tolerated one another.

Sabrina developed bad allergies and chewed her skin. I took her to the vet who gave her cortisone shots for the itching. It worsened, and she was bleeding at times. We moved back to Omaha in 2000. She continued to see the vet for shots. She was miserable. We finally decided to put her to sleep.

Joe was in high school and on a band trip to Disney World when we made the decision. Sabrina had been close to Joe and we knew he’d be upset but the poor kitty suffered so. Sad to hear the news, Joe returned home to find a new kitty in his room. We’d been to the Humane Society in Omaha and chose Daisy. In reality, Daisy chose us.

We’d taken Mike, our youngest, 10 years old at the time, to look at kitties. When we stood in front of the window where Daisy (aka “Sassy”) was housed, she got so excited, leaping around, showing us tricks as if to say, “Pick me! Pick me!” So, we did. I felt like we didn’t pick Daisy. She picked us.

Daisy and Pepper got along okay. Pepper still acted standoffish but seemed to begrudgingly accept Daisy.Pepper and Daisy Dec 31 2002
Joe named her Daisy because he’d been to Disney World (Daisy Duck) and Daisy was a “Holstein” cat—black and white like the cows. “Daisy” seemed to fit her. (Later, we understood why the previous owner had called her “Sassy.” She let us know if she needed attention.)

Daisy loved being around the boys and their friends, frequently hanging out in the basement with them while they played video games. A load bearing pole in the basement that the previous owner had covered with the same carpeting as on the floor attracted her attention. Daisy would run around the basement and jump on the pole, climbing to the top, entertaining the boys and their friends. They figured out that if they ran their fingers along the pole or scratched the carpet, she’d play and jump on the pole.

Daisy climbing pole in basement Oct 2001

One evening, Joe and Mike were in the basement watching TV when they called, “Mom! There’s a snake in the vent.”

I went downstairs with a flashlight. I heard a sound and it was Daisy. Somehow, she’d gotten up inside of the vent. When she saw the flashlight shining she tried to get the light, making her way to the window well. We all laughed at the scare she gave the boys.

Daisy loved to chase lights. Like most cats, she loved the laser pointer. She also liked flashlights. If we were using the flashlight to find something, she’d be right there, pouncing on the light. It could be annoying at times when we were diligently searching for something and there she was, jumping in front of us.

When we first got her, she loved to ride on the boys’ shoulders. She even jumped up on my shoulders while I tried to work on the computer.

Dave and Daisy going for a ride May 2001 Joe with Daisy on his shoulders May 2001 Daisy on Moms shoulders at the computer May 2001


A constant companion, she followed us everywhere. In the mornings, as I got ready for work, she’d sit in the bathtub and wait for water to drip from the faucet. Daisy waiting for the water to drip July 2003She watched TV with us as she got older. When Dennis and I watched Jeopardy or Netflix, she sat there, mesmerized by the screen, sometimes stretching up to touch the television as action zipped across the “tube.”IMG_1623

If things were left on the floor, she checked them out and often sat on the boys’ backpacks and papers. I couldn’t imagine a bag full of books would be comfortable, but for some reason, she liked to sit on purses, computer bags and bulky totes. It’s as if she claimed them as her own.

Daisy in backpack 1998Daisy on grass skirt for drink barrel for Daves graduation party 2002
Once, I put the 3-ring binder that holds my manuscript on the floor by the computer and she came over to investigate. It looked as if she was critiquing my work.

As the boys grew up and left home, she was stuck with us two old people. But she slowed down, too, often keeping our laps warm. She liked to sit in front of the heat vent in wintertime. She loved sitting under the Christmas tree. She wanted to be where the people were.

She groomed Pepper, mothering the older cat. Pepper acted annoyed at times, but put up with it. Sometimes we’d find them sleeping in the same little box downstairs. They both enjoyed laying in the sunlight that beamed through the front door. Sometimes Pepper’s tags would catch the light and reflect, catching Daisy’s attention who would then pounce on the light. Pepper would turn her head and the light would reflect elsewhere, then Daisy would pounce again. Sometimes Pepper looked at Daisy as if to say, “You’re such an idiot.”

Daisy and Pepper keeping the neighborhood safe Oct 2001
Pepper got sick in 2007 and we had to put her down. It was tough, as it always is when you lose a cherished pet. Mike was in high school and had known Pepper most of his life. Daisy missed her, too, looking for her, calling for her. Over time, the pain of Pepper’s loss abated. We still had our dear Daisy.

Daisy developed chronic kidney failure and had frequent urinary tract infections. We fed her special prescription cat food that we bought at the vet office. Giving her pills for the infections proved to be a challenge. We tag-teamed, putting her in an old pillowcase with only her head exposed. Dennis would hold her still while I popped the pill in her mouth using the eraser end of a pencil to get it in her mouth.

Dennis retired in July 2016. I’d already retired from nursing two years prior. We decided to go to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on vacation. The day before we left, Daisy got sick with another UTI. Our vet wasn’t available, so I took her to an animal hospital. The vet did all kinds of tests on her and said she was in kidney failure. He said she needed to receive sub-q fluids and medication. It would cost an arm and leg to keep her at the hospital and we didn’t think Joe could do the fluids while we were gone. (Joe was married by then, starting his own family. The other two sons lived far away so they couldn’t take care of Daisy.)

Daisy on stairs 2001

We called the Humane Society and they suggested going ahead with our trip and leaving plenty of water and food for Daisy (like we always did.) Joe would check in on her every day and give her medicine. If, by chance, Daisy died while we were gone, Joe was to call the Humane Society and they’d come pick up the body and hold it until we got home. We left town, concerned but knowing that Daisy was in good hands.

Upon our return from vacation ten days later, Daisy was chipper and bright, acting like she’d never been at death’s door. Pleasantly surprised and happy, we enjoyed our kitty with a new appreciation for her spunk.

She started to lose weight after that, but still liked to play and jump on our laps to watch TV. She slept in bed with me which was unusual, but she easily jumped up into the bed. She’d pounce on my feet when I moved in bed.


She went from 10# to 7# to 5# over a year’s time. It was sad to see her lose so much weight. When I’d pet her, I felt her spine and ribs. We took her to the vet again for another UTI and she got better again. We started giving her treats and tuna in the morning, trying to fatten her up. She’d started hacking up hairballs more frequently and we gave hairball remedy chews which she loved.

She became our alarm clock, yowling in the morning to come down and give her the treats. Sometimes, we’d wake up at 5:00 am to her siren song.Daisy on pop 1998

Things seemed fine. She still liked to play whenever anyone was in the little bathroom on the main floor. She’d put her paw under the door and wait for whoever was in there to slide a newspaper or other paper under the door for her to paw at. We used to warn visitors that, if they used that bathroom, they might see a little paw flick under the door, looking for something to play with.

She still chased the flashlight and played with her favorite toys. She still ran into the computer room whenever she heard the printer running. She still sat up and waited for her treats. She still greeted us at the door when we returned from grocery shopping or errands.

Daisy and the printer2

We had plans to leave for Chicago November 10 to attend our granddaughter’s birthday party. She’s been fine the 9th. I heard Dennis talking to her in the kitchen. He sounded unhappy. I went to see what was going on. Daisy was squatting like she did with UTIs and then I saw spots of blood. We called the vet and said it looked like another UTI. The vet sounded discouraged. Dennis and I discussed what to do.
He would take her to the vet since I had a meeting at 9:30 am. If it was something serious, we agreed that she should be put down. When I returned from my meeting, I noticed Dennis’ car in the garage but the cat carrier was missing. I knew that Daisy had probably been put to sleep.
Dennis told me that the vet said there was nothing she could do. Daisy was peeing blood and it was serious. It was time to let her go.
I spent the morning sobbing. It was strange because, I’d been sad when Pepper and Sabrina died, but never like this. I talked to my boys on the phone. Mike called from Oregon and Dave, from Chicago. All three boys spoke fondly of our kitty and shared many memories. I said I didn’t understand why I cried so hard for Daisy. Dave pointed out that, with Sabrina and Pepper, they’d been sick awhile and I’d seen them suffer. But Daisy seemed fine one day and was dead the next. I had no time to anticipate her demise.Daisy helping with Christmas decorations 2001
I was glad we were going to Chicago the next day. A few days away might help. And it did. But coming home was hard. As we neared Omaha, I thought of Daisy, almost automatically, like I’d done before, wondering what she’d been up to while we were gone. What would we find when we walked in the door? Then it hit me. We wouldn’t find anything because she wouldn’t be there to greet us or meow and complain about our absence. We would enter an empty house.

I’m grieving but it helps to remember all the joy and love she gave us. We were so blessed to have our sweet Daisy Cat. Time will heal my broken heart, but memories of Daisy will be forever etched in my soul. Thank you, sweet kitty cat. You were the best!

Daisy 2004Daisy fireplace 1998

Daisy computer cat May 2001Daisy helping with the lights



Halloween at the Car Wash

This is a story I wrote after going through a car wash recently. This particular car wash features mannequins dressed in yellow rain slickers that greet you with frozen stares.

As I went through the wash, I thought of it as a cheap haunted house. My imagination went wild.

The story started as a 100 word Facebook post. After receiving several “likes,” I expanded it to 600+ words and read it at the Nebraska Writers Guild conference last weekend. 
Halloween cookies
Halloween at the Car Wash by Sue Bristol 2017

The crisp air invigorated me as I stepped out the door. “I love the Fall,” I said to no one. My black cat looked up at me as if I were an idiot. I nudged her out of the way and headed to my car.

I turned the key in the ignition. “Wash me” the engine seemed to growl. A shiver ran down my spine. I looked up and saw the windshield covered with dead slimy bugs and beetle juice.

I drove passed the Bates Motel and headed down Elm Street to the nearest car wash. Traffic was a nightmare! I wanted to scream.

At the intersection, I spotted the twenty-foot tall, blonde fiber-glass figure in a yellow-raincoat, beckoning me to the car wash.

I turned in and pulled up to the lane beyond the gas pumps. A guy dressed in cuffed blue jeans, a white t-shirt and black leather jacket sauntered over to the car. “What’ll it be, baby cakes?” He ran a comb through his Brylcream-saturated slicked-back pompadour.

“I just want a basic wash that will get rid of the bugs.”

He leaned into the drivers’ side window. “That’ll be seven-bucks.” He took my money, winked at me, and double-clicked his tongue.

I followed the lane to the entrance. A strange mannequin greeted me with a frozen grin and big eyes that never blinked. He was dressed in a yellow raincoat and a hat like the Gorton fisherman. It reminded me that I needed to stop and buy some frozen halibut, fava beans and a nice Chianti

I proceeded into the tunnel. As I drove onto the conveyor, the car resisted my control. Piercing green eyes flashed across the dashboard. My SUV morphed into a 1958 Plymouth Fury. Another yellow-clad mannequin waved while holding a water-less water wand as if washing the car.

The car lurched forward. Red and blue lights flashed in the tunnel as the car advanced. I was powerless. Discombobulated by the lights and the roar of the wash starting up, I shut my eyes and trembled. The name “Christine” popped into my head as the smell of a hamburger drifted from the back seat.

I startled as white ethereal foam covered my red SUV-turned Plymouth Fury. Black tentacles descended from the ceiling and swished across Christine’s windshield. Petrified, I heard a rumble. Water shot out from the tunnel walls, hitting with such force from both sides that the car shook. The eerie foam oozed from the hood of the car. The spray had won. Was I next?

The car advanced with no help from me. I sat frozen in my seat. I looked up and saw a little mannequin doing flips near the ceiling, staring like the curse of Chucky.

Strong bursts of air hit the car as it advanced toward the exit. No control over my thoughts, the light at the end of the tunnel forced me to think in clichés. Another life-size mannequin dressed in a yellow coat, white shirt and black tie, stood at the exit, waving at me and pointing to something. I wasn’t sure what, as his arm was flattened and his tie, duct-taped to the sleeve. The car slowed. At last, I had control! Christine was gone. Grateful that I’d escaped the yellow dummies, I drove the SUV onto the street, heading home.

The giant yellow beckoning statue looked down at me at the intersection. His menacing fixed gaze warned, “We’ll get you next time and your seven-bucks, too.”20161021_181420


September 19, 1985, I was sitting on the couch, writing a letter to my best friend. Mary, when Katie Courek on the “Today Show” announced that an earthquake had struck Mexico City.

Mary lived in Mexico City in the Colonia Roma area. She’d been to Nebraska two months earlier to visit her family and friends as she often did during the summer. She and her children had spent a few days with us in Omaha before heading to her hometown of Cozad, Nebraska, 200 miles west.


Picking her up at the airport that warm June day, Dennis grabbed her luggage as she and I embraced, her two small children in tow. “Careful,” she laughed.” that suitcase has the tequila in it.” She told us how she’d had two bottles of tequila for us but one had broken when they boarded the plane in Mexico as she tried to maneuver her two active children down the aisle to their seats. “I was so embarrassed, all I could do was laugh. I’m sure the other passengers thought I was crazy.”

The next few days were spent catching up, reminiscing and taking our children to the zoo, Children’s Museum and park. Dennis and I made plans to go to Cozad to celebrate her birthday when she and her parents and brother’s family returned from vacation in the Black Hills.

Me and Mary July 1985

As I watched the television reports come in that warm September day 32 years ago, I wrote “Did you see your planter sway?”

Mary's 34th birthday (her last)

Mary and I had talked long into the night when Dennis and I’d gone to Cozad for her 34th birthday.

“Remember that time we ran to the basement when the tornado sirens blew? Tornado watches and warnings are common this time of year.”

“Hopefully, we don’t have any storms while we’re here.” Mary held her six-year- old daughter on her lap.

“Guess you don’t have tornadoes in Mexico.”

“Not around Mexico City, but they get them up north sometimes. We have earthquakes.”

“Are there any warnings for earthquakes like sirens?”

“No, but I have a hanging planter in the living room that sways when there’s a tremor. When I see the planter move, I get the kids out as fast as I can.”

Image result for picture of hanging planter

I continued to write the letter to Mary, recalling her visit and all the fun we had. Katie Courek reported and my ears perked up when I heard, “Colonia Roma.” I put my pen and paper down and turned up the television. Colonia Roma was the area of Mexico City where Mary, her husband, Gonzalo, and their two small children lived.

The morning dragged on. Glued to the TV, I had no desire to do my usual morning activities. Was Mary okay?

I tried to call her parents but there was no answer. I called her older brother, Mike. “No, I hadn’t heard about the earthquake. Mom and Dad are camping in Wyoming. I’ll try to get a hold of them.” No cell phones back then.

Hours ticked by. Mike called back and said the state patrol had found his parents and told them about the earthquake. “They’re heading home.”

“The earthquake was a powerful 7.8,” the reporter announced. Pictures showing mangled steel beams and shattered walls flashed on the screen. I prayed that Mary was alive.

The death toll climbed. The phone rang. “I tried to call the State Department to find out if there was word about Mary, but communications in Mexico are poor to non-existent.” Mike’s worry was palpable.

Several days later, we found out that Mary and her children had died. A wall had fallen on them. They’d gotten outside only to be struck down by bricks and mortar. Gonzalo, her husband, was found days later in air pocket, the rubble of their apartment building surrounding him. He’d died of an apparent heart attack.

Image result for picture earthquake in colonia roma 1985

The next day, I received a final letter from Mary. It held no concerns about earthquakes, no profound insight into life or death. She told me about her day-to-day routine, how she’d gone to the market to get some fresh tomatoes for soup, how the children were playing with their toys, how she enjoyed her trip to Nebraska. No foreshadowing of the things to come. No thoughts that she might not be alive when I received the letter.

front of envelope

Yesterday I remembered that day as I have the past 32 years. September 19th was my father’s birthday, so the date is etched in my brain.

The days that followed the news of Mary’s death blurred. My best friend, my constant companion throughout my childhood, my college roommate, my maid-of-honor, my “sister” was gone.

I posted her picture on Facebook with a memory of the day as I usually do. Then, in the afternoon, there was word of another earthquake. I was stunned! How could it be? Near Puebla, where Mary had studied as an exchange student and where she’s met Gonzalo, a 7.1 earthquake hit. Mexico City was also affected…again. Colonia Roma…again.

Mary and Gonzalo June 1974

What’s Your Story?

Do you keep journals? Write in a diary?

What is a journal? Business people will tell you that it’s a “record that keeps accounting transactions in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ”

Writers use journals to come up with story ideas or to make memory lists for memoir. Journals help us tap into our creativity.

Mental health professionals often suggest keeping a journal as a means to discover your inner self and identify issues you may have hidden from yourself.

Journals can be very private or shared with individuals or groups.

Journals and diaries are a way to:

  • leave your legacy for your children
  • sort out your feelings about the past
  • communicate with yourself and others
  • unleash the right side of your brain (creativity)
  • figure out day-to-day issues and time management
  • understand your life story
  • keep track of a specific event as it is happening in your life

I tend to use random spiral notebooks for my journals, but there are many more formal journals you can purchase. They may have “prompts” in case you aren’t sure what to write about.

Years ago, after the birth of my first grandchild, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a journal called “Grandma, Tell Me Your Story.” Each page had a prompt for each day of the year. There were blank pages at the end where I could write whatever came to mind. The topics were something like:

  • January 1 – How did your family celebrate the New Year?
  • January 2 – What were your favorite activities in the winter?

Most months had holiday-specific prompts (if there was a holiday that month) as well as general topics like “Did you ever get in trouble at school? What did you do?” or “What was your favorite Halloween costume? Describe it.” One particularly poignant page in September asked “Where were you on 9/11?”

I wrote in the journal each day and by the end of the year, I returned it to my son for my granddaughter to read in the future.

Recently, I found another “Grandmother” journal that I plan to write WITH my granddaughter. It’s a “back and forth” journal where one of us writes and tJounral grandmahe other responds.

I am scheduled for a major surgical procedure next week and have been journaling about it. It will require major lifestyle changes so I am ambivalent and a little scared. Will I be able to do what is needed to stay healthy? I’d planned to grab a regular notebook to write in, but my friend said I should buy a special journal since this will be a major change in my life. She thought it would be wise to write down the process as well as my anxiety and feelings of anticipation. Why am I having the procedure? How will it improve my life? What will I be able to do afterwards that I can’t do now? What is the doctor telling me day-to-day?

I saw some journals at the card store while I was looking for Father’s Day and birthday cards. One caught my eye. It was beautifully bound and combined adult coloring designs and lined pages. But, it cost $25 so I put it down. A spiral notebook would only cost $2 or so. I told my friend, an adult coloring book fan, about it and she said I needed to go back and get the journal. “You deserve it.”

While out shopping, I was near another card store, same company. I decided to stop in rather than driving across town to the one where I originally saw the journal. Disappointed, no journals like it were to be seen. I asked the cashier as I was leaving the store and she pointed, saying, “Check out the clearance table.”

I walked over and laying on the table among scented candles, stuffed Easter bunnies, and small Mother’s Day plaques sat a lone coloring journal. Spiral and paper instead of leather bound, the coloring areas were on the outer margins of each page instead of the top. Price: $5. I couldn’t pass it up. I took it to the cashier and she rang it up at $2.50. Even better. “Clearance” proved true. Being a spiral, it’s easier to open up flat and write.


With a price like that, I couldn’t resist buying a second one listed for $8. It was more elaborate with pale green binding and sayings inside as well as coloring at the top.

I should be set for awhile.

I’ve discovered that writing in the coloring journal isn’t as tiring if I write awhile and then color awhile. Different hand muscles are in use for each activity.

journal inside

I have other journals that I will leave for my children as legacy. There is one about Family Traditions. Each major holiday has page where I wrote about typical ways we celebrated when our sons were small or still living at home. Each page has a pocket side where I store mementos such as cards, place-mats or small items.

There are so many journals out there that are fun and useful. I hope you can find one or two you like. To paraphrase the beginning definition of a journal by accountants –” A journal is a record that keeps personal and family history in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ” Or not.

Journal mothers