The Last Laugh

I have a big problem with what I watch on TV or Netflix: it’s almost exclusively dramas.

It’s not that I don’t like comedies.

But far too often, comedies are difficult for me to watch. I identify a little too much with a character, or maybe I don’t, but when I watch, and a character is in a sticky situation, I’m embarrassed for the character. I can feel what they’re feeling a little too much…and it’s uncomfortable.

I noticed this over a recent weekend. I was busy knitting, and needed a half hour more of TV time after binging on Marvel’s Daredevil so I could finish the row I was on. So I flipped through Netflix, decided I didn’t want to start anything long or involved, so I turned on The Andy Griffith Show. I recently started letting my kids watch it because it’s wholesome, I don’t have to worry about them hearing words I don’t want them knowing yet, or worry about the situations being too graphic. At 1 AM, probably a pretty good choice to accompany some knitting when I’m just trying to get to a stopping point.

The episode was really sweet. We’re still in the first season, and Andy & Barney were on a double date with Ellie May and Thelma Lou. The power went off for a couple minutes at Ellie May’s house, and when the power came back on, it was obvious Andy and Ellie May had taken advantage of the situation. (Get your head out of the gutter, this was the late 1950s, after all!) But Barney and his date had sat through the momentary outage with their hands in their laps.

As the episode went on, Andy teased Barney about not getting a kiss from Thelma Lou, and eventually Thelma Lou turned things on their head by trying to make Barney jealous by suggesting that Andy was after her now. Things progressed from there, but as the episode went on, I couldn’t help but feeling badly for…really, all of the characters at some point.

I don’t know if all people react to comedies like this. It could just be me. But I watch very few of them as a result. One of the few I’ve glommed onto is The Big Bang Theory. I do enjoy it, but probably because there are references to most of my fandoms throughout. And I can identify more with the characters than probably any other show on TV, at least as far as comedies go.

But still, it doesn’t make it any less painful to watch most comedies.

Maybe the old adage about laughing with someone, rather than at him, holds some truth?

I know for me, it does.

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Adventures in the Great Outdoors, I

If you took the way that my husband (The Man Of The House, or TMOTH) and I grew up and compared them, you would see the reason why the two of us are vastly different. Unless we were at my grandparents’ farm, we didn’t do much outdoorsy stuff–camping, hiking, fishing, etc. My husband? was outside ALL THE TIME.

Ironically, my husband and I met on a camping trip–the weekend was the first time I’d ever stayed overnight in a tent.

While I’m still not an “outdoorsy” girl–I’d still rather be at home with my books and laptop–I’ve been getting better about being outside. Or at least I’m trying to be.

Frequently on the weekends, my husband says for me to pack a cooler and grab some diapers for our three-year-old, and off we go. Sometimes I grumble, if not to him, to myself. I’m not a spontaneous person, I like to have some time to plan things when possible. An hour to pack everything we’ll need for the rest of the day and it’s 11 AM? Yeah, doesn’t thrill me too much.

But, I like what it’s teaching my kids–to be flexible, roll with the punches, and most importantly, enjoy the outdoors (although, much of the time, all they’re enjoying at this age are movies in the car and an excessively long car ride.)

Father’s Day was one of these days. On the way to church, TMOTH made noises that he wanted to go fishing. So, I had about a two hour warning before we got home that this was on the plate. Get home, pack lunch, grab the diapers, head out. 

Then, what inevitably happens with us, “Where are we going?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“It’s Father’s Day. You pick.”

“I don’t know where to go!”

A bluegill our daughter caught on Father’s Day

I sigh, make a few half-hearted suggestions. We stop and he retrieves the Gazeteer from the trunk. I start telling him directions. The kids watch “How to Train Your Dragon” for the 17th time in the last few weeks. The younger one naps. The dog is cramped, on the floor between the front and back seats of our mid-sized sedan.

We’re all wishing we had a Suburban, especially the dog.

Eventually, we find a spot we’ve been to before, a long, long time ago–maybe before the kids came around. TMOTH and our daughter fish.

Our daughter catches two small bluegill, TMOTH catches a small catfish and a small bluegill.

I keep our son from falling into the water, take pictures of dragonflies when I can get close enough to them without our son getting too close and scaring them off. We huddle down together after retrieving our hats from the car as light showers come across the lake and hit us head on. By the time we leave, my T-shirt is soaked from the rain.

I’m cold, haven’t had dinner, and am tired, but other than gently reminding my husband he neglected to get me something to eat when I couldn’t eat at Subway (I started a gluten-free diet last fall, so Subway is NOT on my menu,) I don’t say too much. I do adjust the thermostat in the car to something a little warmer, then help my husband figure out where the heck to go. We take a wrong turn or two (I’ve gotten turned around on where we are,) and I mark the Gazeteer in ink on where to go again, and scratch off roads shown on the map that aren’t roads.

It’s been a successful day overall. We made it home in one piece. The kids got to run around and fish. I took several pictures, none I’m thrilled with, but they’re okay. And more importantly, my husband got me out of the house. I’ve become quite a homebody the last couple years. Having your life center around the health and wellness of your immune-compromised son will do that to you.

Next up on our list of challenges–a possible weekend trip to a cabin, or maybe even in a tent.

I’m not sure I’m ready yet.

Until next time…

A Time to Say Goodbye

Yesterday, February 11, was a difficult day for me. I awoke earlier than normal, scarfed down some breakfast, badgered my kids out of bed before the sun was up, and hit the road before dawn.

Anyone who knows me knows this is abnormal. Heck, I’m writing this at 8:30 AM, and I’m still in my pajamas.

But, I had a very important reason to hit the road.

On Friday of last week, I learned that a friend from my grade school days had died. Killed in a murder/suicide, actually. Very hard words to absorb.

I hadn’t seen her in well over a decade, but she’d been on my mind for a few days leading up to this news. See, I’d had some personal turmoil last week, and in the midst of it, I remembered what a good friend she’d been to me all those years ago.

I first met her when I began taking piano lessons from her mother. Despite the fact I’d be taken out of the public school we both attended a few years later, I continued taking lessons from her mother until I was about 16.

We were in a combination class together the final year I was in public school, she in the lower grade, me in the upper. I’ve always been a little odd, and was not “in” with the other five girls in my grade level. Throughout the school year, I was constantly teased, but for the most part, ignored it. But my friend didn’t. She and a couple other girls in her class eventually came to me and said if I didn’t do something about what was going on, they would–and they did go to the teacher.

My grade-level classmates were called on the carpet for bullying me. But it wouldn’t have happened without Erin intervening.

This story was in my head a lot last week before she had even died, and I’d been about to ask a mutual friend of hers and mine about where she was and to try to get in touch with her when I learned the news.

So yesterday, instead of talking to her, I got to hug her mother as I said goodbye to a woman I wish I’d stayed in touch with. I was so glad to be reassured of how much she loved her family, her friends, and God.

Life can be full of regrets. This is one that I’ll definitely regret the rest of my life, that I didn’t stay in touch, or get in touch sooner.

Rest in peace, Erin. I know you are already missed, but those who loved you and appreciated you will see you again, one day, in Heaven.

Culturally Different

In the last couple of weeks, I read Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. For those of you not in the know, this is a memoir of sorts that Ms. Druckerman wrote about her experiences as an American mother raising children in France. I found myself laughing and learning frequently in this book. I rarely read memoirs, in fact, this may be the first I’ve ever sat through, but the subject matter was intriguing to me: how the French raise their children. Culturally, it’s quite different than we Americans raise our kids, and I found myself wishing that even for a few years, my kids could have the influence of the French.

One thing I found intriguing was the idea of expectations. In one chapter, Ms. Druckerman describes how the expectations of life are much different in France than in America, and it filters into their literature, especially for kids. Where in our children’s books, we have a story that gets resolved in most cases, and things become “perfect” (or as close to perfect as the author can make them so they’re left with a feel-good effect), the French stories published on the other side of the pond are more true to life. She describes one story in a very popular French children’s series where one character is mean to another (don’t remember the context now, and I had to return the book to my library!) They work on the problem through the book, and I believe the mean child eventually apologizes to the other character… In an American book, that’d be the end of it, but the French book finishes with a final scene where the mean child repeats the same type of offense as originally started at the beginning of the book.

While I thoroughly enjoyed all of the rest of the book, and have learned several things that I’m going to try to implement with my own children, that story about French literature really stuck out to me, probably because I’m a storyteller. I love the art of storytelling, love learning about the so-called “rules,” love digging in to my own stories to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

And I can’t help but think I’ve approached it in a fully American way.

In adult fiction, it’s a bit easier to have an ambiguous ending to a story. Fine. We’re adults, we can handle it. But, I can’t think of any stories I’ve read to my kids where there’s not a happy ending. And, as Ms. Druckerman pointed out, that’s not really all that true to life. It leaves kids with a false sense of what should happen in life, that our problems can be solved easily, when often, things are much more complex.

I love a happy ending just as much as anyone. I always get a bit teary-eyed at the end of Return of the Jedi when Han and Leia come to terms, and it’s obvious they’ll be getting together. Same goes for the end of Pride & Prejudice, and a whole host of other books and movies.

But, should we always let our kids watch shows or read books where problems are easily, and fully, resolved? Wouldn’t it be better to expose them to life, and give them a sense that life isn’t going to always be full of lollipops, roses, and puppies? As in the French book referenced in Bringing Up Bébé, wouldn’t be better to let our kids know that friends won’t always repent, and are just as likely to repeat the same offenses over and over?

I, for one, think that would be a benefit to kids.

What are your thoughts? Do you remember reading any books with ambiguous endings as a child, or were all your book choices ended in a happy way?

Until next time…

On Hospitals

Life sure does take the craziest paths sometimes.

For instance, I’ve only been admitted to the hospital twice–and both were avoidable occurrences (the births of my children.) I actually hate hospitals. When I was having my son, I remember vividly telling my doctor that I just wanted to go home–that’s how much I hate hospitals. My words were met with a laugh by all in the room, but I was dead serious.

So, you can imagine my consternation with the amount of time I’ve had to spend IN hospitals in the last two years. Yes, I understand they’re necessary. Yes, I understand that it’s been for the best that my son is there periodically, and that most of his doctors are based at hospitals.

Doesn’t stop my slight germaphobia.

I’m pondering this aspect of my personality more as the day gets closer that we’ll be taking our son out to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant. While we won’t be inpatient for 4 – 6 months, he and I will be in hospitals several times a week. How will that work, especially since I get a bit of anxiety when I’m in the hospital for a long time (i.e. more than two days)?

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle, Washington

I have decided that there are a few things I’m going to do while I’m in Seattle. Right now, since I’m mostly writer blocked (hence no blog posts for the last two months!) all of these are reading and crafty. I figure I’ll have a lot of downtime. Currently, my list of things includes: learning to knit socks, learning Tunisian-style crochet, possibly learning to hand quilt, reading all of the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, and reading all of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (there was a freebie on Amazon.com a while back and I’ve already started it.) I’m hoping these activities, possibly coupled with writing some short or novel-length stories, will keep some of my anxiety at bay… and keep me from going bananas while being surrounded by doctors, nurses, and germs.

Until next time,

Growing On Up: 5 Lessons on Writing Learned in the Garden

I started a garden this year.

It was sort of a last minute thing, and I really didn’t prepare like I should have, but despite it all, it’s been fun to see my plants grow… a few taller than TMOTH and myself (and TMOTH is 6’4″/1.93 meters tall!!)

My garden at the beginning of  the year

My previous gardening experiences have left much to be desired. I grew up with a large garden in our backyard, where my mom would (sometimes) plant a ton of tomatoes, and occasionally other things like corn, peppers, and melons. But, since I married TMOTH, I’ve mostly had a black thumb. I can’t start seeds to save me, and many plants I’ve bought at the store die.

This year, I was actually successful (at least up to now!) Eight tomato plants, five sweet pepper plants, and one lonely chili pepper plant. Oh, and an ever-expanding patch of oregano.

Of course, my water bill has been going up thanks to the huge drought Kansas is in… *sigh*

TMOTH was adamant–he wasn’t going to tend to my garden for me. I have a tendency to not go outside at ALL when it gets hot. So, having a small garden seemed reasonable.

And, I’m kind of glad I started small.

So far as I write this, my city has had 20 days in excess of 100° Fahrenheit. We’ve had less than 4″ of rain since June 1, 2012. Normally, we’d have had about three times that by now. I’ve had to be out pretty much every day to water, occasionally twice, or my plants start wilting.

Homegrown, home-canned tomato sauce

Because of the extreme heat, I’ve forgone any trips of any lengths of time. My plants would be dead or close to it, I fear, if left for four days (and yes, I know I should get a water timer, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

Of course, all this has led to some fruitful results. I’ve picked a few peppers so far, but even more tomatoes. And, I’m flexing my canning muscles. So far, I’ve canned my own tomato sauce, and am hoping to soon have enough tomatoes again I can do my own salsa, too.

In the midst of it all, I’ve learned quite a few lessons, some that I can translate into writing lessons.

  1. Plan Ahead — My decision to do a garden was made hastily. If I’d started working on it earlier, I could have had much more space cleared, and hence, more plants/more produce. As a writing lesson, this is translated to outlining. I’m not a firm believer in outlining, but it’s growing on me. Especially given this experience.
  2. Give Me Space — You can probably see that my first picture, I had things planted kind of close. I was ill prepared for how well my plants would grow, since my previous attempts at growing tomatoes and the like had produced straggly-looking plants. Writing lesson: don’t jump right into editing. Let your writing sit for a while.
  3. A Mariana’s Peace Tomato from my garden — not a Roma!
  4. Do Your Research… or Not — I bought 8 tomato plants from a local grower. I’d been adamant–I wanted Roma Tomatoes, the kind best suited for canning sauce. The grower told me she’d give me some Roma’s, but she also had a different kind of Roma called a Mariana’s Peace. So, I bought four of each. Well, the Roma’s grew like I knew they should, but when the Mariana’s Peace started to get big, I knew I’d been sold a bill of goods. These weren’t Roma’s, but beefsteaks! After I’d harvested quite a few of the tomatoes, I researched them–something I should have done right off the bat. However, I was pleased to learn they’re an heirloom variety, have a lot of meat to them, great flavor, and seem to have mixed well with the Roma’s. Writing lesson: I’m not huge on research, never really have been. Being a pantser, I rely on intuitive or stored knowledge, occasionally a blog by Lee Lofland, Wikipedia searches, or my small writer’s reference library in my bedroom/office. Really have to stop doing that. I’ve had to rewrite more scenes because I later learn of major inaccuracies. Which is why I’m contemplating asking a couple of my legislator friends to allowing me to shadow them come January–despite the fact I’ve been a legislative intern twice–since I’ve got two new ideas for novels that would involve a legislative setting. I need to be a bit more disciplined about research.
  5. Deal With Your Circumstances — I had no idea I was going to deal with a drought like we’d had. Even though I follow Gary Lezak who came up with the LRC (Lezak’s Recurring Cycle) which is a weather theory I believe has a great deal of scientific merit, I didn’t see us having a drought as extreme as we’ve had. I figured it’d be hot–we had a mild winter, more rain than snow, and I think I was wearing shorts as early as February. So I was prepared for the heat. But, I’ve had to be out every day, usually in temps nearing 100°, and that’s not something I’m used to. I actually hate the heat. But because I saw my little tomatoes growing, and had visions of maybe supplementing our food sources in a significant manner, I was out there, watering, tending, trimming, and harvesting, even if I was tired, hot, sweaty, or sick. Writing Lesson: Your circumstances are your circumstances. Deal with them as best as you can. If your schedule is unpredictable, fit in 10 minutes of writing between appointments.
  6. My tomatoes quickly became overgrown.
  7. Learn From Your Mistakes —  I desperately needed to have about twice as much space for my tomatoes as I ended up having. I can access them only from the perimeter, otherwise, I have to crane my neck and sometimes reach in blind to find my ripe red fruit. Next year will be different. Come fall, probably in October, I plan to Round-Up a significant part of the yard (probably much to our landlord’s chagrin!) and add compost to all our areas that I’m clearing after a couple of weeks of killing off the weeds and crabgrass. I hope to have twice as many tomato plants next year, maybe even three times as many, spread over at least four times the amount of space. Writing Lesson: As I detailed in last week’s post, I made the hard choice to give up on my project “Homebody”. It was a tough decision, but one that needed to happen. While I’d hesitate to call “Homebody” a mistake, I definitely learned from it. Maybe I’ll detail some of the lessons learned in a future blog post.

Question for you: What lessons have you learned about writing from your outside activities?

Until next time,

Harvest

by Foto3116

I grew up in the heart of wheat country–south central Kansas. Harvest is not an uncommon thing for me to witness. I remember growing up, there would be days we’d have to close up the house on nice days because there was a field just south of us, and the farmer was harvesting (or tilling sometimes) and it would stir up dust. My mom is an asthmatic with allergies, so the dust being blown in always caused problems–even with the house closed up.

Still, I love watching the big machines doing their jobs, row upon row being eaten up by that whirling harvester, soon to be turned into flour… or whatever else wheat is used for. Corn, milo, soybeans, and countless other grains grew in my area of the world. I even occasionally saw a cotton field!

Now, when I think of harvest time, I think of not just the big fields with family or commercial farmers in big rigs, but I also think of the small harvest–the one in a backyard. I’m hardly a green-thumb–TMOTH swears I have the ability to kill nearly every plant. He’s almost right.

My mom grew tomatoes almost every year for several years. In the height of summer, there would be several weeks go by where she’d can a few days a week. Spaghetti sauce was a big one. While my family isn’t Italian, we ate a lot of spaghetti. There’s nothing better than homemade spaghetti sauce–with homegrown tomatoes!

I hope one day I can outgrow my black-thumb tendencies. I’d love to learn how to can for myself, and to teach my daughter when she’s older. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from several friends, I just need to bite the bullet, get the equipment… and actually grow something worth canning! Then maybe next time, I can have a happy harvest, too.

Today’s post has been a part of the ChristianWriters.com blog chain. For links to the other blogger’s posts, please go here.

Until next time,