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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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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

Earthquake

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.

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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.

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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

 

40 Days of Change

mardi gras

We Christians are in the Lenten season. It starts the day after Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday.”)

mardi gras mask

Mardi Gras season actually begins on January 6th, the Epiphany, the day that commemorates the Three Kings or Magi’s visit to Baby Jesus. The last week before Lent is celebrated with parades, feasting and carousing. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” Or in this case, “tomorrow we will diet!”

**One of the traditions of Mardi Gras is King Cake, a colorful cake with a plastic baby inside. King cake reminds us of the three kings finding Baby Jesus.**

It is tradition to observe the forty days of Lent by giving up something. As a children, we often gave up candy or television. After Vatican 2 in the 1960’s, we were encouraged to be more positive and think of others, giving up “anger” or grudges or doing something positive for others. Both practices remain as people choose their own Lenten observances.

In the Catholic church, it is mandatory to practice “fast and abstinence” dSoup nazi lenturing certain days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We “abstain” on every Friday.

“Abstinence” means not eating any meat. There’s an age requirement but my mother made it “across the board” in our family. The rule is every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting just meant eating light meals and not eating between meals.

People 18 years old to 60 years must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many people continue to fast beyond that age as a personal preference. The “rule” is there because it was thought that the elderly are frail and need to eat. Nowadays with longer lifespans and healthier, more active elderly people, many see it as archaic.fishBefore Vatican 2, the rules were much stricter, with all 40 days of Lent (excludes Sundays) being days of abstinence from meat. I hated fish, especially growing up in a family of eight in the Midwest where seafood is expensive and not the freshest. We ate a lot of fish sticks. It was double penance! Mom also made meatless dishes like macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and a Eastern European dish called Haluski, a fried cabbage and dumplings dish.

Lent and St Patrick memeLent can present some issues for us. Consider St. Patrick’s Day which usually falls during Lent. This year, it’s on a Friday during Lent! What do the Irish Catholics do? We must have our corned beef and cabbage! Depending on where you live, the bishop or archbishop may issue a dispensation which allows Catholics to eat meat on Friday. The large Irish community in Omaha received a dispensation this year with the stipulation that if you eat meat on Friday, you must abstain on Saturday. Lent drinking

Lent is a time of self-reflection, charity and prayer. The three pillars or practices of Lent are alms-giving, penance and fasting. It is a time to stop and think about our relationship with God and with other people.

This year a friend of mine started posting on Facebook her”40 Days of Change.” The first one I saw was “10-cents for each cup of coffee you drink today.” I wondered what that meant, so I asked her. She said that at her Protestant church, the pastor handed out Lenten calendars. On each day of the week (except Sundays), a suggestion for collecting change is given, things like 10-cents for each phone call you make or receive, 25-cents for each bed in your house, a penny for each book you own (that would be a lot for me!),  25-cents if you belong to a gym, etc. The point is to think about things you have that others may not have. Then collect the money in a jar and donate it to a charity. With 40 days, it could add up to a good amount and probably not be missed by us.

It seems like such a simple thing and yet one that could impact lives. I have decided to do it. Retroactively, I figured out the amount for the 10 days I’ve missed and have started today with “20-cents for each musical instrument you own.” My sixty-cents today will be added to the $6.80 I figured out from the past calendar days. I will continue until April 15.

The calendar is a good guide. Even if you don’t have the calendar that I got from my friend, you can create your own by thinking of things you have that people might not have access to. I thought these before I received the calendar from my friend:

  • Number of pets you have
  • Number of pictures on the wall and on your shelves
  • Full shelves of food in the refrigerator
  • Number of cupboards/shelves with food in them
  • Number of televisions in the house
  • Number of devices like iPads, readers, phones, laptops
  • Exercise equipment
  • Number of bathrooms in your house
  • Number of clocks
  • Number of cars, motorcycles, boats you own
  • Number of windows in your house
  • If you have a shredder or security system
  • If you have a swimming pool
  • If you have a financial advisor
  • Number of chairs in your house
  • Number of pens on your desk
  • Number of photo albums

The list you can create is endless. Then assign an amount to donate such as a penny for every pen in your desk drawer or $1 if you belong to a gym or have a financial adviser. At the end of Lent, put the change in the collection basket at church or donate it to a charity of your choice. The exercise is a good reminder of what we take for granted every day and what other less fortunate people in the world don’t have access to.

This Lent, let’s give up our selfishness and self-righteousness and turn our self-involved behaviors outward to help the poor, disenfranchised and needy of our community. I think we will benefit immensely if we become more self-aware of our gifts and share them with others. We can “shine a great light” when we focus on others.

“And that’s the way it is.”

I was watching the Today Show while eating breakfast this morning when I pondered why is media the way it is? Where have all the reporters gone? (Apologies to Pete Seeger.)

Whmusic-notes-855908ere have all the newsmen gone, long time passing. Where have all the newsmen gone, long time ago. Where have all the newsmen gone, gone for celebrity every one. When will we ever learn? When we ever learn?

“News” flash: Megyn Kelly is moving to NBC!

Matt Lauer makes a lot of money. NBC just signed him up for 2 more years at $20 million a year. Lots of twos. He’s been there 20 years. He has a 2 year contract and he will make $20,000,000 a year. Maybe he should buy a lottery ticket with twos across the board (as if he needs more!) What would Walter Cronkite think? (Oops! Wrong network!)

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For a few years, I’ve noticed that television anchors are not reporters but celebrities. We get our “news” from celebrities. Kim Kardashian could step in for many of the so-called reporters! (Wait, is that true? Is she going to host the Morning Show?) False…for now.

Why is hearing about an anchor’s pregnancy relevant to the world? Why is watching a celebrity perform some feat more important than the orphans being whisked out of Syria, in fear of their lives? Why aren’t problems like poverty being addressed or reporting on hunger in our own country? We seem to want to watch trivial things instead of being confronted by real news stories that are harsh realities.

Walter Cronkite was at CBS for 19 years. As a reporter and then anchor, he covered WWII, the Nuremberg trials, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, then MLK’s assassination. He reported on Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis. He covered the news! We didn’t know when or if his wife was pregnant or what college his kids went to. He never told us what he had for breakfast that morning. He said, Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” 

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I wonder what he’d think of today’s world. I’m sure he’d be shocked by all the false “news” that has been bandied about this past year. He strove for objectivity in reporting. He said, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine. Nowadays we are seeing more opinion being “reported” as “news” than truly objective journalism. There are someexceptions. I think photojournalism is still relatively forthcoming. Hard to lie when you take a picture of burned out houses or people running from a gunman or storms hitting a part of the country. I don’t think photo manipulation has entered the field. A cynic might think it’s only a matter of time, but I know some very reputable photojournalists (i.e. my DIL) who would never stoop that low.

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Walter Cronkite had his faults. Some colleagues thought he was too proud or dictatorial, but we could trust him. The American people believed him when he reported something. I wonder what he’d say about this past year. Maybe something he said years ago:

“We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.”

Anymore, news is all about the ratings. How much money can a network make from advertising? The higher the rating, the more advertising income. The higher the ratings the higher the $$$ rewards to the anchors and reporters.

The news media is important for our democracy. The freedom of the press is usually the first freedom to go when a country is falling. But we need a strong, hard-hitting press that doesn’t cave to celebrity and the mundane.

“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.”

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Writing conferences, retreats and lonely husbands

Last weekend, I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild fall conference in Aurora. This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat with my small “generative” writers’ group. My husband may forget what I look like.

Typically, the NWG organizes a big spring conference in the Omaha-Lincoln area and a fall conference further west, in hopes of reaching more of the writers throughout Nebraska. We’ve gathered in Aurora the past two Octobers. The board brought in national speakers, to small town Nebraska. Several members had the opportunity to pitch their books. (I didn’t because I’m not ready.)

Friday evening began with author readings. Whomever chose to, had five minutes to  read something they’d written. I decided I was going to give it a shot this year. I selected a short story I’d written and spent two hours at home, honing it down to 5 minutes. I arrived in Aurora, one-hundred twenty-three miles away from my home in Omaha and checked my messages. My husband texted that I left my abridged short story at home. I quickly rummaged through the stories I’d brought to give to my non-author librarian sister-in-law. I quickly made scratches and x’s on one of the stories while other readers read. They draw our names so I had no clue when I’d be called to read. Luckily, I had time to figure out which parts of my story I was going to read. Like many writers, I prefer writing over speaking or reading aloud, especially in a large group, so I was nervous. I did okay. My friends said so, anyway.

The next morning, the conference began. It was difficult to get up at 8:00 am and head to the center. I had been “hostess” to an impromptu wine tasting in my room the night before.

An agent from NYC spoke on “Promoting Yourself as an Author Before and After Publication.” A marketer spoke on “Effective Social Media for Busy Authors.” A New York Times Best Selling author enlightened us on Book Bub and an author from Dallas, also a bestseller, spoke on “Lessons from the Self-Taught Path.”

Taylor Stevens, the self-taught author/speaker and bestseller told her story–a child raised in a religious apocalyptic cult. With only a sixth grade education, she faced many challenges when she left the cult as an adult. With no work history or job skills, she struggled to find work. She went to garage sales and bought boxes of used books for $5-10 and resold them individually at a slight profit. She was raising two children at the time. Her life was a lesson to us all who want to give up when we can’t get published. She overcame many difficulties and now writes thrillers. http://www.taylorstevensbooks.com

I would guess there were close to 100 people or so at the conference. We did a lot of networking. Some sold books. Some caught up with old friends. And many came to my room after the Friday evening readings and drank wine until 1:00 am.20151003_151934

 

This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat at Mahoney State Park. Our small, but mighty generative writing group plan a special gathering each year, usually in the fall. We find a location conducive to writing and make reservations. We each decide a topic we will present to the rest, all six of us. We have done this for over 12 years and look forward in anticipation every time.

When we plan the retreats, we pick a theme. For example, when we met at the Willa Cather home a few years back (see “Bat at Cather Home” story on my home page), our theme had to do with books by Willa Cather. Another retreat featured a movie about Beatrix Potter so our theme was called “Child’s Play.” We followed that retreat with “A Spoonful of Sugar” the next year. We started the evening watching the “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Our retreats are a combination of honing our skills, learning new information and having fun. We allow plenty of time for”free write” when we go off by ourselves and write whatever we please. We typically have at least one session where we write from a prompt and share. The retreat ends with “Bedtime Stories” on the last evening. We gather in a cozy room, bring our hot cocoa or tea, maybe some popcorn or a snack and we read something we’ve written. No critiques, just listen to stories.

This weekend, our theme is “A Recipe for Success in Writing.” The topic was inspired by my recent acceptance into the Nebraska Life cookbook, which I’d hoped would be available in time for the retreat. This time we’ll watch “Julie and Julia” about the person who blogged while cooking from Julia Child’s cookbook.

Our topics include goal setting, writing an author bio, blogging, and memoir cookbooks. I have asked my fellow writers to bring a recipe that is meaningful to them. I’ve planned a prompt for them to use with the recipe–tell the story. Was it a favorite that Grandma cooked? Did the dish or dessert appear on the dining room table every Thanksgiving?

The trees at Mahoney State Park are beginning to change, so it will be beautiful.

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Maybe next weekend, I should plan a weekend with my “writer-widower” husband. Maybe we can watch some football together for a change.