The Seymour Agency’s Second Winter Writer’s Escape

I went to a conference, a winter escape into a writer’s paradise of classes, introductions, and learning to pitch a novel to agents and publishers. The Seymour Agency sponsored it, providing excellent speakers on topics of forensics, crafting a novel, fiction, nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy, romance and mystery. Tor Publishing and Sourcebook spent time working to focus writers so that their books might make that great award in the sky of publishing a novel.

Can you imagine the opportunity to take an ocean cruise, see Nassau and Cozumel, meet exotic people, and spend time working on completing a dream? That’s what this agency did for me. While I was learning the foundations of forensics through the eyes of a woman who was raised by two medical examiners and now consulted with Hollywood to make shows believable, my husband read books, sat in the sun, and took a lot of naps. I think I mentioned that he worked nights and slept days, so we are always at crossed schedules.

I met a lovely young woman named Leslie who is a professional editor. She wanted to show us exactly what a copy editor does. Presenting using an overhead projector, she could have taught any school in Virginia that one third of the Standards of Learning that includes grammar, spelling, cohesiveness, and proper word choice. I think she felt a bit strange, what with most of us being over thirty-five, sitting poised on the edge of our chairs to catch every bullet point. She’s a great example of a woman who knows her craft and loves it. She blushed and smiled at us. She reminds me of a sparrow, always busy, always working, always available to listen. I love sparrows. They are a workforce of correctness with a chirp of encouragement. (Please don’t take offense, Leslie, if you don’t like birds. I mean well.)

The agency was started by Mary Sue Seymour, who died last year from cancer. My friend Andy had submitted to her last summer, and the response she gave him was clear advice, helpful tips, and a push to keep working on his book. He said she was the best refusal he ever received. She was a marathoner, a motivational powerhouse, and a believer in the power of the written world. She was also approachable. I’ve added her to the list of people that we walk for cancer to raise awareness and funding for. Before hearing about her, my list was mostly family. But she deserves to be remembered for her effort, indeed her fight, to care for others to the very end. Writers can be difficult, like herding earthworms who surface and then dive for the depths of the earth to get their quiet writing done.

I met Nicole, a senior agent, via email when I was registering. I told her I was related to Murphy, and boy has this been a year for Murphy. Since September, the family has had three totaled cars, one new baby, one thief, one hospitalization, one set of messed up paperwork, several temper tantrums, sixty hour work weeks for my husband, an angry daughter-in-law, a misplaced Christmas spirit and more. Yes, Murphy and I are more than friends, we must be related. There were bumps and bruises in my registration, and Nicole elevated me to human status and solved everything in less than five minutes. She’s one of those women who see you when you speak, listen to your meaning as well as your words, and gently pushes you in the right direction without your knowing it. On top of that, she’s a mother, wife, powerhouse of knowledge and a compassionate human being. It was my honor to meet her. Because of her, I walked away from the conference confident that I’m on the right path.

I met with Diane from Tor Books over a bottle of water in the champagne bar. I pitched my second book, the one science fiction with a naive but determined group of young women, and she gave me guidance on what genre it was, a space opera, a list of authors to read, and a good push to finish the one I’m halfway through. She was a gracious listener and I was her very last pitch. Publishers don’t usually meet with you face to face. She gave Tor books a gracious personality.

Deb from Sourcebooks, who handles a lot of romances, was hosting Stitch and Pitch sessions at odd times and scheduled times throughout the week. She sat and knitted, or unwound tangled yarn with the assistance of an extra pair of hands from one of the participants, as we learned how to talk about our novels. I don’t think she realizes that her honesty is unusual into todays age. Where things were lacking, she was quick to point them out. Her questions were pointed and she listened to the first words out of your mouth, then refocused you on what you were trying to say. You need to know your genres, your sub-genres, plot, characters and put it into one to three sentences because publishers don’t have a lot of time. Neither do agents. They can receive hundreds of manuscripts in a week and you need to catch the eye quickly. She also said to follow the directions on every agent and publisher’s submission guide. For writers, apparently we aren’t always good at communicating.

First line manuscripts were subjected to panels of participants and agents and evaluated on their originality, quality, and foreshadowing. No one is harder to please that a writer evaluating other writers. There was a panel on what happens when real life occurs and you are trying to write (I qualified for this lecture by more than a handful of life experiences getting in the way.) There was a panel about what genres are selling, one about diversity in literature, another about keywords and social media platforms, and I ran from one to the next with notes on my laptop and scribbled into a green notebook they had given all of us.

I had a good time and learned a lot of new information. It helped heal the pain of losing my mentor ten days before the trip. My husband was impressed that I had so much energy. We were both ready for my collapse when we got off the ship and started the second part of our trip. It took me four days to recover, but when I did I was still really excited. In fact, I hope they are going to sponsor a trip next February. I’m going to go again.

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Christmas Photo Prompt

Thursday photo prompt – Christmas Present – #writephoto

The shine of a Christmas tree in the boughs decorated with shiny balls and silvery lights lit the child’s face as nothing had done before. Chilly temperatures in the house made seeing a tree inside a logical thing, as the child had just learned cold. One year of age and just twenty days more and all of the learning that had occurred until that day melded together to make Christmas a mystical experience. The cautionary voices of mother and grandmother as they mentioned that she should look, but not touch, gave the child the first knowledge of something precious that couldn’t be grasped. Christmas would be a fleeting moment in her development. As soon as the mystery was grasped, it was also gone. Two weeks in the eyes of a child, and Christmas would be a compounding memory each year. The grandmother’s tree, decorated with family ornaments from 21 years of marriage, filled with family history and time would sit in the child’s eyes out of focus and just out of reach but remembered distantly. A message about a baby. About animals. That was my first Christmas.

Two years later, another child came to learn of the mystery of Christmas. Another one year old, and a little more, stood beneath the tree decorated with sugar cookies because the young couple was making do with what they had. Now there were three children, and a young couple trying to be independent and having none of the money for extras. The sounds of carols from a record player filled the air, and the youngest toddler heard the admonition that he should look but not touch. The cookies hung so temptingly. So he stood with his hands behind his back and bit off all of the feet as mother made a dinner and father went out to seek a Christmas present with only ten dollars in his pocket. He sought it at a hardware store, and finding something he remembered from his Christmas’s long past, a sled with bright red runners. The cost, too great, but he looked at it longingly. The spirit of Christmas filling his eyes, and seen by a salesman, was suddenly his as the man gave him the sled for seven dollars instead of twenty. He would play in the snow with his wife and children, pulling the sled down snow covered sidewalks. All of them young and happy in the moment, then it was gone. But the sled remained for many years, a testament to the spirit of sharing.

Another year, and baby three arrived. Christmas in the blue eyes at only four months of age, now living with Grandmother and Granddad as the world changed. Korea was over, Vietnam was foretold in the news. But in the home, with it’s generations, life was safe and beautiful. This year the cookies hung above the little boys head, just out of reach, except when the oldest would lower the branches just so, entertaining himself and his brother. The toys the children received gratefully disappearing into memory, a doll, a truck, a book or two, all to be well loved and used.

Another year, and the house stood on the banks of the Mississippi, and the newest edition to the family being a parakeet who flew into the open window that summer and stayed for over ten years. Uncle Ned liked the tree and the lights. This year cookies came from a Swedish bakery and were placed in a clear jar only to be opened by the mother and father. Large cookies tasting of peanut butter, sugar, chocolate chips and the mother’s oatmeal raisin cookies tempting good behavior and giving instant reinforcement when that behavior was given with ungrudging enthusiasm. It was the first tree that was in focus for me. I had received my glasses that summer. It is the first tree I remember, the clarity of vision adding mysticism to the experience. This Christmas too was fleeting. But I was now old enough to know that there would be more.

The next Christmas in another grandparent’s house, for my Grandmama needed help from my parents in managing all of the daily tasks. The room was dark, but lit by the tree. Mom never had enough time to do all of the things she needed to do. Now she was no longer working forty hours a week, instead she was making all of our clothes, cooking and baking all of the meals, cleaning the house, playing with us, reading with us, showing her competence but feeling graded at every moment.

I missed a memory the next year. The only thing I remember is singing a hymn about Jesus and the animals. “Jesus our brother kind and good, was humbly born in a stable rude and the friendly beasts around him stood.” I sang that song until June. Over and over, my poor mother must have been driven nuts by it. I started school the next year at 4 1/2. I now think that my mother must have sent me early so that she could have a break. With four babies in under five years, her hands were full and she never complained or rejected us. She did need her own place to be totally happy and that happened as we started school.

The year after, we moved into our own house a few blocks away. Those years are filled with the memory of my brother making my father laugh as he pretended to be a goat head butting him in the knees. The trees got taller. We accumulated shiny balls and figures of ancient Santas, tinsel carefully cherished from year to year. My mother made incredible ornaments from egg cartons. She made tall angels to sing in a choir out of bottles and styrofoam balls, gold paint and old sheets. There was nothing cheap about the way they looked, gleaming as they did on the one book case we owned. She made a sled out of cardboard boxes to hold presents and keep them tidy and the tree safe. We were given an apple and an orange each Christmas by Santa once our stockings were big enough to hold them. There was always a candy cane. And Robert Shaw and Harry Simone came to symbolize the way Christmas should be sung about. One year, four stockings arrived from my Aunt Diana, and pajamas the next, a start of new traditions. We went to the Swedish Institute and learned of the tale of St. Lucia. Red candle holders turned up sometime in the first few years. Ribbons hung from the curtains, in gold and green combinations and splendar.

Mom did most of the work getting ready. Dad would put the lights on the tree and we would decorate. Dad would work. He made ice for the skating rinks, leaving in the early morning to put new ice on the rinks for Christmas. Then skates arrived one year, left over from other children who no longer fit them, Dad brought them home and we learned to skate. Granddad came to skate with us. I skated on my bottom more than my feet, eventually switching to rubber boots so I could stay up. It took me years to learn. So many Christmases. We lost my grandmothers early, and missed them each year.

My mother would make clothes and toys for us by hand. She would make new clothes for the dolls that my sister and I owned. And when I discovered that she was the spirit of Mrs. Santa, she enlisted my help. She and my older brother made me a doll house from a cardboard box that looked so real and was the dream I had thought I would never receive. My mother was Christmas. For us, Christmas was the moment when we could all be happy, safe, and full of joy. We were a lot like the Whos down in Whoville. Somewhere in the early years in the green house, we became recipients of gifts from the VFW. That had been a tight year, and we were invited to a Children’s Show. Every child there received a gift by name from Santa. I wonder now if it hadn’t been part of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. No matter, the VFW make Christmas real. My older brother got a lock which had a gun hidden inside it that worked with caps. My baby brother got a gum ball machine, which was also a savings bank. We helped him eat all of the gum balls, only to feel chagrin later in life for having done so. My sister and I got dolls, although I don’t remember any more. I remember sitting in that room feeling special and valued. We didn’t feel like poor church mice even when money was so very tight. Then there was the Christmas that the stockings hung empty, and my father said we had not been good, Santa hadn’t come. Oh the tears welled up in our eyes, and just before we all cried boohoo, gifts were discovered, too large to fit in the stockings. Oh such joy. We had been good, as good as normal children could be. I had a stove and refrigerator that I loved until I went to College and played with constantly with my dolls. It was just the right size.

And I grew, lean and uncoordinated, very slowly, but woke up one day knowing that the time of family celebrations being over was coming soon, and not wanting them to go. But they did. I went to college and learned more of the music of the season, carefully taught by teachers who believed that the music was more than for enchanting children. I learned of nuns, and sacrifices, and brought home that knowledge for two weeks of trees and changing brothers and sisters.

Then I was gone, living on the west coast, and rejoining once more a Christmas at my Granddad’s home, which fleetingly sped past as only two days was allowed for my visit. I was gone again, this time to the East Coast where Christmas became the time I was to be married. The ceremony held in Minneapolis, just a few days after Christmas, so full of family and time that I could barely grab the holiday. I remember that it was cold, -5 degrees in the morning, and then warm 45 degrees by noon. The wedding hung over the holiday and mixed the two so in my mind that I have never been able to separate them.

After that, I had my own children. Two years apart they acted like twins by the time the boy was four and the girl was two. We had trees and presents and travelled from one family to the next for family dinners. We now had three family dinners, one with my husband’s grandparents, one with my parents and one with my Aunt Diana and Uncle Herb. The first four years were as rough for us as had been for my parents. Poor in cash but rich in grownups who realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. They provided me with stability and the knowledge that life would provide us with enough speed bumps as to make it interesting. My focus at Christmas became the tree. I could never equal what my mother had done for us, although I tried. I baked gingerbread cookies for the tree, but no one nibbled on the feet. I had learned the tale of my brother and took precautions. Each year we added ornaments that we made, candy canes made of shiny plastic beads carefully sequenced in patterns. We made bread dough ornaments. We colored paper chains and threaded cranberries and popcorn. I made some dresses for my daughter but was nothing like my mother whose clothes had turned out perfectly. I worked. I, like my mother, had gone back to school when my kids reached an age where they could understand that I needed to do homework. They were in second grade and kindergarden. My poor mother had had to wait until we were in high school. Somehow she had managed all of the decorating, shopping, baking, cooking, and never missed a step. Me, I stumbled all over the place, but my heart was in the right place even if my skills weren’t.

My father died when my son was 14, and my daughter ll 3/4. It was 1995, and I remember insisting that mom come down and stay with us. I was teaching by then. She filled the day with joy, even though her heart was broken. In the years that followed, she began packing up Christmas and moving it to a place further away in her closet. It wasn’t the same without my dad. It wasn’t the same for me either. He had taken such joy in what my mother had created for Christmas, and that joy must have been the reason she continued to be so creative for so many years.

One winter my family from Minnesota came to Virginia for the holiday. My older brother, my little sister, her husband and two children, my younger brother and my mom all fit into our house in one fell swoop. We went to Mount Vernon and Williamsburg. I was informed that I was the favorite aunt because my lap was cushy by one of my nieces.We had the tree and a feast. It felt like the old days in the green house for me. I gave my little brother a ha’ penny, but he missed the symbolism. It didn’t matter, I got the message. I wanted my family to know that they were loved. Mom took photographs, as mom always does.

Then my children grew. In 1998 the first MS attack that we can document with a certainty occurred and I slowed down. I couldn’t do the things I loved to do. My children stepped up and helped with the tree becoming more and more competent each time. Popcorn and Cranberries were no longer on the tree. Mom donated some of her ornaments and the cats took the tree out that year, as cats are wont to do. They broke and it made me sad, but still the tree was reassembled and the holiday went okay. After that, my kids were grown and mom started going out to Minnesota for the holidays. We each got her for two or three days, but the season seemed fragmented without her.

One Christmas Eve, we had finished the tree that night, my husband having to work, and the kids had a surprise for me. We had been married 24 years, and that evening my husband brought me an engagement ring. I guess he figured out he wanted me to hang around. Time sped up.

When my son returned from the Navy, he brought a wife. She had troubles, but her children were sweet. We had a tree and took the kids to all of the places children should go when they visit a grandparent. It was only for that one Christmas, but we were exhausted at the end. I lost ten pounds that holiday. It was a nice perk.

One year, we had a Charlie Brown tree that the kids found and took the bottom branch of the tree in the back year from. They wrapped a blue sheet around the bottom and it had two ornaments, one from Charlie Brown that we had had, and a new Charlie Brown ornament from my dear friend Ana.

The next Christmas and those following found my family working to keep the holidays of Halloween and Christmas according to tradition. Until present day, we struggled along as best we could. But this Christmas arrived on my birthday with all of the bells and whistles and I feel that joy that I must have felt when I was one and the tree was lit with magic. This Christmas coming in a week will be our best. My husband took a week off. We plan to go to an arboretum to see lights. The tree is up and I made handmade ornaments to add to the collection. My daughter-in-law will be staying for the holiday. My son has taken a few days off work. And the cooperation between my two children is something new and something I wanted to see. My son-in-law has been putting up with all of this Christmas stuff for me, even though he doesn’t like the holiday. My father-in-law will be here. There is a new baby due in the family soon, my niece is expecting her first any day now.

There is a dark part to this Christmas, one I don’t generally talk about and try not to let it take over my holiday. I’m not sure how many more times I will have to celebrate the holiday. My father’s side of the family dies at about 65 and that is 6 years away. I know, I shouldn’t dwell on such a thing and I should take one day at a time and be glad for the times I have. But really, 65 is way to young to die. I’ve just figured out how to play the game here. It’s all gone by so fast. It’s the hospital stay that brought this on. But I will blink and block these darker thoughts for now. I’ve got what I wanted most for Christmas. I have a family. I wish mom could be here but she’s jet setting around the world as she likes to do. She’ll stay long enough to make sure that things are still Christmas and move to the next sibling. I’ll have her back soon enough. I know, I have a book for her present and she is a bibliophile. She can’t resist a book. Neither can I.

I’m off to watch Christmas shows and create some presents from “Stuff” I have lying around that needs to be created with. I want to leave something beautiful for each of my family to glow for many more years.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays…remember the light.

 

Twitter

Twitter gives me hope for the world. Oh, there are the ranters and screamers, the yellers and haters, the inconvenienced and the shoppers, but it is a world of words. There are people who tweet for help when a pet falls ill, a parent dies, when expenses overwhelm and houses are up for foreclosure. There are comedians who make light of the world, mocking the situations that show an intolerance toward others. There are dreadful Christmas Carol titles that make me giggle. There are doctors, writers, book publishers, researchers, tourism promoters, contest holders, ball players, cats, dogs, kittens, politicians, and just plan old people trying to stay current on the news of the day.

It’s kind of like a circus, you get the best seats in the house and watch the performance of dancing ponies, acrobats, word wigglers, salesmen. You can order refreshments from the web advertised in short verse. The world series was twittered in all of its loves and hopes. And some of us sighed when the game was over. It’s okay, though. It’s all meant in the best of spirits.

People tend to speak about what matters most to them. What matters to me is keeping in touch with the outside. My front door stands between me and the broad wide world. I don’t tend to go outside much, I’ve been working on my book. But I’m doing the rewrite now and hope to meet an agent soon that might broaden my horizons. I also have a new car to cruise to the doctor and the store, which will give me some new insights into the world.

I’ll continue to follow the internet because I can find others with similar beliefs. That keeps me from feeling like a shut in. So go ahead and tweet, I’ll be here listening. And thanks for coming to visit my page when you can.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Ann WJ White

Did someone really say this?

A week or so ago, I read a WordPress site that made me incredibly sad. Indeed, it left me speechless. Syria is not going well for the so-called rebels, and it is even harder on the civilians who are caught between the government, their personal hopes, and those who are brave enough to speak out against the government of Syria. The writer had moved with her family to the United States after World War II. She was despairing of the lack of moral fortitude that allowed the Syrian people to leave their homeland and to seek a safer place to live. She wanted to know how people who supposedly wanted change to come to Syria could leave that battle and run to Europe, Canada, and the United States. Her grandparents had stayed in France to fight in the resistance against the Nazis. Were these people really expecting the world to accept refuges who wouldn’t fight for what they believed?

She went on for a long time, speaking of her moral superiority over these victims. My take was that after World War II the conditions weren’t good in France. Supplies were in short supply, and to provide a better living situation for their descendants, her grandparents moved to the U.S.

Aleppo this week has showed more reasons for leaving Syria. Innocents shot dead by the Army as they summarily moved into the west side of the city. Male, female, old, young, it didn’t seem to matter to the government forces. They were summarily executed. In a conflict of this nature, the world failed these people. The UN did not muster a protecting force. The Russians targeted schools, mosques, and medical facility. The Syrian government was more concerned with their propaganda showing Aleppo as a place for tourists to visit, than in working with and achieving a resolution to the problems that brought the revolt in the first place.

Donald Trump has said he could look into the eyes of a child from Syria and tell her or him that they had no right to come to us as immigrants. He’s notorious for making statements of intolerance towards others. I’ve also read accounts of people who claim religion, Christianity, and yet don’t understand that most basic cornerstone of the call for charity, generosity, and humanity. The old “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” apparently strikes no sympathy in their hearts. We have a tall lady in the New York harbor that stands bearing witness to the fact that all of us came from somewhere. Even the first nations know that their ancestors came from somewhere other than our continent.

We have so much as a nation and so many opportunities, is it possible that we can’t share a little of our prosperity and safety with others? Immigrants become some of our best citizens if we let them live and participate in our government.  They take the worst jobs and make the best of them, providing their children with educations which enable them to become better citizens.

Make no mistake, I hold that same opinion about those refugees who come from the Americas too. I feel that we have a heart that needs tending, and if we shut the doors based on race, we have worked against our own standard as the greatest nation currently in the world. We who have much, have a responsibility to act as though others matter. It’s Christmas, and we should keep that in mind as we change our government.

Birthday! Geburtstag!

Yesterday was my fifty-ninth birthday. It was also my happiest birthday, besides being born (thanks MOM).

My children decided that the best way to celebrate my birthday was to spend it with me. What mother could resist that? They have such busy adult lives that normally we have a brief conversation over the phone, a sandwich brought by so I don’t have to cook, or a pat on my head. Their lives are so busy that in past years they haven’t had time to affirm that I was getting grayer, or whiter, or that time was ticking past at a tremendous pace. But this year we had the hospital scare which mobilized both of my dears to become more involved in my life again. It was a lovely outcome to a scary time.

My day yesterday started with a breakfast wakeup call. My daughter and her husband had arrived with pancakes, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and bacon. They set the table and giving a cheer to bring us down the stairs, presented me with this feast. It took another call up the stairs to bring my husband down. My daughter used the “Dad, he’s poking me again” line which has become a family joke. My son came in and announced that his sister has surprised even him with the early morning roll call. He encouraged us all to eat and then to dress warmly because the day had just begun.

“Just begun?” Could it be that the day was just beginning? Normally weekends are days spent cleaning house, grocery shopping, and organizing for the next week. Taking time away from those things was unusual. Did they mean a game day? We have days when we invade each other’s territory to spend the day with unusual games that call out to us to play them. My son in law Chris was the one to encourage days like that, but this time, it was not what was intended.

I was ushered into the car, and we sped off after my daughter and Chris, at a respectable 35 miles an hour, strictly following the speed limit. There is a vendor of trees, each Christmas season, at the end of our neighborhood behind the Wawa convenience store and overlooking Neabsco Creek. Every year we wander to the vendor a day or two before Christmas and pick a tree that we hope will last into January. This year we were suddenly ahead of schedule. My son had given us a new TV for Christmas this year at Thanksgiving. Now the two kids had delivered a tree, an eight foot all Frazier Fir, and let me pick it out. We were twenty days ahead of schedule. Maybe, as Merlin thought in White’s A Once and Future King, we were moving backwards in time. No, we were moving forwards. The tree was placed in Chris’s truck as Derek opened his wallet exposing the tree fund to light and U.S. currency and homeward we went.

At this moment, door number two opened. Yes, we got the contents of door number one and two at the same time. Derek began pulling out the lights, not just for the tree, but for the entire house. Since he moved home, there has been a sense of normalization that he’s brought. Halloweens must be celebrated with decorations, and so too with Christmases. But as he set out to do the lights, Chris and my husband Eric set the tree into water, and Genevieve ushered me inside.

We always spend Christmas eve cleaning the family room of a year’s worth of crafting and lack of energy on my part by cleaning and getting the area ready for a tree. It can be a daunting task. Once we lacked the funds for a tree, and my kids went out into the backyard and brought back a bough from a white pine, with the perfect curl to it that would have fit in Jack Skeleton’s setting or Charlie Brown’s Christmas. They wrapped the bottom of the tree with a blue Linus blanket, and set one ornament on the tree at the pointy end of the only branch the tree had. Our dear friend Ana arrived on Christmas Day and added one additional ornament to the tree, a Charlie Brown Christmas ornament celebrating the simplicity of the season which is often overwhelming for me. Another time, the cleaning was finished at midnight, and the tree remained undecorated, but well loved. Christmas always arrived expected, but never quite prepared for, just like babies.

So I was convinced that my duty was to let people help me. Chris, Eric, Genevieve and I sorted, moved furniture, ran up and down stairs (I only handed things that needed to be relocated) and we achieved a new landmark. We had a clean tidy organized Christmas room early. We also had a ficus in the corner that now bears handmade ornaments that look like the ones that Grandma Boonie had on her tree. (Just a sign perhaps, but this Thanksgiving Genevieve, my mother, Laura and I created the ornaments to help us celebrate her life. My mother had also created ornaments using the same techniques that had decorated my parent’s trees. We never lacked for a love of Christmas, even when there was no money to be found.) So we used the ornaments we had made at Thanksgiving to decorate the ficus.

Off went Genevieve, Chris and Eric they soon had the tree in the stand. Derek and Eric brought the tree in the house lifting it over all of the things that hop out into the way when you want to transport something, successfully missing all of the obstacles, and the tree was placed along the west wall of the family room. Then began a call for directions to straighten the tree, which was amazingly close this year to true from the beginning, and we ran a relay of water so that the tree wouldn’t dry out.

Then we fell over, and Derek arrived with the ingredients for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He had four types of cheese, including the American cheese that I get teased for my infatuation with, two types of sausages to be sliced and added to the cheese and Campbell’s Tomato soup. He whipped up dinner for us all, taking orders like the short order line cook at a good deli. By this time we had listened to Hamilton, the original soundtrack, Christmas swing music by the Glen Miller Orchestra, and we were ready for something to go with a quick meal. So out came The Grinch, which has my father in law in it, just check the section of the first singalong where the Who wearing the glasses and the trimmed beard is shown, followed by Charlie Brown’s Christmas. That gave us enough to time recover our blood sugar levels and the lights arrived for the tree.

Genevieve has taken over that job. Her dad used to do it, but with his schedule giving him less time to do it in, he had to pass that tradition on. Derek has done it several times, but he was still finishing the outside of the house. We run a string or two of lights up the middle of the tree, generally using the largest bulbs we can find, and cabling several light strings together until we have fully lighted strings to use. Then we swirl small lights around the tree. Each year we put together the leftovers of the years before until we arrive at the tree lights we think of as perfection. The pineapple ornament, the symbol of hospitality, goes on the very top, and this year has two 9 inch ornamental angels in full gold and white dress, holding candles (fake candles, the ones using electricity) are directly underneath the pineapple. It almost looks like the beginning of an angelic chorus. As we added ornaments, the tree opened up beautifully. I decorate the inside of the tree as much as the outside. It’s always amazing to me how many ornaments a tree can hold.

We put in twelve hours of getting ready for Christmas on my birthday. It’s not many people who can say they have been given Christmas as a birthday present, but I can say that. I was exhausted but really happy by evening. When my daughter and Chris had left for home, and Derek had gone to get ready for bed, Eric and I sat and watched the tree. He remarked that we “have some great kids”, and I added “and they are remarkable adults.” He asked if I was happy and I am. I’m also really proud that they recognize that time with them is the most important gift I could have been given. Christmas as a present gave them a way to show how much they cared and let us share a lot of memories. And, it’s not even Christmas yet.

Dailypost Challenge: Anticipation

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/anticipation/

While much of the world talks about gratitude, we in the U.S. find ourselves dealing with “anticipation” as the world shakes and turns around us. What’s going to happen in our future? Where will the next shoe drop? What happens if so and so does such and such? And then the political elbows appear to dog us back into our perimeters of uncertainty and our place at the bottom of the totem. Personally, I am tired of elbows being thrown to show who is the authoritarian expert on life itself and am ready to start throwing my elbows around. However that would be tiresome, and tiresome isn’t who I am.

I’d like to anticipate a broad future for us all, but I just don’t have it in me today. So I’ll simplify the anticipation of what I’m anticipating to what it means personally and shake out my brain’s rafters a bit.

We will survive to retire. We weren’t sure of this before, but as we get closer, well, the anticipation is thick with us. (Sorry Yoda.)

  1. Despite all of the efforts to throw issues between the two of us, my husband and I, we still stand together. I anticipate this to continue, after all, money won’t always be this tight, will it?
  2. Medical issues will be part of the future, but I think we can handle them. I have good doctors that are willing to work with me as my life becomes more complicated. I’m also willing, and have made arrangements, to donate my body to science so that more can be learned about MS, Type 2 Diabetes, and my other issues. I anticipate medical science will continue to improve our lives. I have to believe that the catch phrase of “there is a cure down the line” will eventually mean there is a cure down the line.
  3. I anticipate that my husband and my parents will remain independent. Alzheimers disease rates are down. Mom and Dad-in-law are both competent at age 81, and have significantly more energy than I do. They’ll both rock into the 90s knowing that they are well loved. We also have assigned rooms in their names if they ever do need to reside with us. Family will remain an important factor of our lives.
  4. Our pension is with a union which we predict will float through the changing times. Someday people will understand that those of us at the bottom and the middle are human too. We don’t expect it to happen in our lifetime, but hopefully for our children and our grand nephews and nieces. I anticipate that the union will stay in business.
  5. Our children are grown, and although there is still one at home, he’s a kind hearted young man. He knows that his situation is putting stress on us, but tries to mitigate it. He’s one hell of a salesman. He also has empathy for those who haven’t had his advantages and has learned how to positively effect those around him with small kindnesses. The other is a competent and surly, beautiful, young woman who can rise to battle as I was once able to. She’s smart, caring, kind hearted and one who will always fight for the underdog. It’s a nice thing to know that what we anticipated our children turning out like has come true. I anticipate that they will continue to amaze me. I anticipate that they will advocate for us when we need it. It feels good to know that they are keeping a close eye on me.
  6. I anticipate that I will become published one day. It has taken a lot of work, and I foresee more in the future, but I think that my dream will come true. What did Jefferson say? “The harder I work, the luckier I become.” Well, that is a truth that is hard to argue. Finishing the first book was a process of growing into wordier shoes.
  7. I anticipate, hope, dream, and lust after winning the Emily Dickinson Poetry Contest. It runs out of Chicago and hasn’t been offered for a while. This coming January it is back and will be accepting 46-80 page submissions of poetry by people over 40 years of age who haven’t had a poetry book published. (That would be me.) I’ve started the process of going over all of the work I’ve ever done and honing it down, categorizing it, slimming it, potty training it and all of the other things one must do to succeed where one has never even had a dream of success before. It’s an anticipation to fill all of those hours when I’m alone over December and January.
  8. I anticipate that I will start to make friends again. I’ve become rather reclusive. The first step to meeting people is getting out of the house, and to that end, I bought a car for me. It’s a vibrant blue 2017 Sonic. Why did I chose that one? I like the way Chevies crash. Two of the people I love have crashed tested their cars in the past 5 weeks and both owners of the Chevies got out of their cars and walked away from what could have been fatal accidents. It wasn’t what I intended to buy, but when I was out looking, I had my son looking out for me. The car had been in the dealership less than 10 hours, hadn’t been processed yet, had two miles on the odometer, and had never been test driven. In a lot of primarily silver, white and black cars, it called to me from around the corner and behind the service bays.
  9. I anticipate going to spring ball games for our minor league team, the Potomac Nationals. I anticipate going to a bookstore for events like poetry readings, sales, and browsing.
  10. I anticipate more people standing up for what is right, honest, fair and pushing back against hatred, bigotry, racism, poverty, and ignorance.

I think that I will develop a broader anticipation of what is coming in the immediate future if I am patient and stick to my value system. Kids always amaze me and give me hope. As I watch this next generation grow, I’ll learn which direction we’re headed in and then can focus my anticipation list better. I’d certainly like to become hopeful on a global scale. I’d better go back and look that that gratitude thing, too. Maybe it will allow me to anticipate some really good things in a new light.

Bad Me! An Apology for being Rude

I used the F word on another WordPress account. There is no excuse, I lost my temper. You see, I assume things about people: that they are logical, have a grasp of life, have been in the world for a bit. I should know better. I tend to become attached to people, to care what they think. Like I say, I assume.

I couldn’t be more wrong. The column is written by someone who also has MS. He’s a blogger and a blog linker. He keeps one foot in the golfing door. I assume he has money. He never talks about needing anything, although most of us with MS do have needs. Most of us won’t admit that publicly.

So, why did I use the F word? Because with no knowledge of what young adults go through, he dismissed them all as whiny little babies that should take their ball and go home. He mocked them as participation trophy winners who had better understand that life was about more than participation and they should get on with their lives. Yup, that was the trigger. Protesting against what happened in the election, the issues that they are terrified of, the using our Bill of Rights, our millennials are involved and passionate about their issues. I care about that. It’s part of being a Patriot.

I could give him the short list of my background, but I’m not sure he wants that conversation. So rather than try to be glorified by me, let me stick to the young ones and why I care about them.

When something happens in someone’s life, it could be death, illness, a lack of the basics for survival, you act on what you believe. You act on what you have learned. You act on the compassion you have learned. You act on hard, cold facts that stare at you in your cup of coffee. The people who helped you learn and grow believe that you can face anything together. They watch from the sidelines after their influence time has waned, and they care. My students rallied around me when the MS hit, making sure I had contact with their worlds still. I care about them, all of them. I even care about the one student I could never win over to being a participant. They have many years to grow in yet.

Teachers get nine months with your children. We make mistakes, but we believe in your young people and we never forget them. We watch them learn  honesty, learn to donate time to important issues, to protect their brothers and sisters in humanity, to take on issues head first, to fall down, to get back up but to always participate. We love our students. Some teachers showing it through gentle lessons, some teachers by being brutal, but honest,  teaching that facing an issue is just the beginning.

I did all the volunteer things as a mom and teacher. Daisy Scouts and Brownies for my daughter, Tiger, Cub, and Boy Scouts for my son. I did Grad night for three years, before the serious onset of my MS. I held after school clubs that  were varied and based on population needs. Let’s see: a Magic the Gathering Club in three different schools, Yearbook, Literary magazine, Shakespeare club, Theater, a pre-finals Finger Nail polishing/snack eating study relaxation club for women in high school who were test phobic, a Belly Dance Club, a gardening club. I volunteered at Leesylvania State Park, charging nothing for my time, but reading to preschoolers, working for the Breast Cancer Walk, providing raffle gifts of framed photography, teaching painting on driftwood, cleaning the Visitor Center, joined Friends of Leesylvania to help where help was needed, was on the crew to work for CAST (for children who were taken fishing by a “Captain” on a one to one relationship), decorated for park functions, played in the Haunted History Hike opposite a 15 year old “husband” from the Fairfax family (creepy in a way), taught embroidery and cross stitching, taught a geography club, a stamp club, created a school post office and taught kids to run it. I did a lot more. Why? Because that participation trophy helped everyone. I got to meet and work with some great kids, great young adults who were taking their place in the world. I believe in our Millennials. That’s why I got angry.

I hold people who have gone through difficulties to a high standard of emotional intelligence. This man stated that he didn’t care enough about the election to vote for a difference. That’s cool. I didn’t vote for Trump or Johnson, thinking instead that issues were more important than flailing away at the dark. I understand where the young are coming from, as I am a child of the 60s. Human rights have been on my target for 55 of my almost 59 years. My parents made sure that I understood the difference between right and wrong, helping and hurting, motivation and laziness. They never gave false praise and if you did get some, there was always a caveat on the fact you could still do better. You can ask my mother if you like. She reads my writing now too.

We learned to share. When a Cambodian family came to the US and the father started working at Bachman’s Nursery, my family gave them clothing, toys, a grocery bag of food, furniture which my parents reupholstered to look brand new, and friendship. There was a Lesbian couple that my parents advocated for, believing that the right to be who you are should never be a matter of debate. There was a community center where my parents volunteered and helped make a success. We did paper drives, shoveled snow for our elders, mowed lawns and raked leaves, started gardens with our neighbors, and always, participation was a requirement to be part of society.

I learned to protest unfairnesses in Middle School and was an odd duck then and now in believing in our society. I believe that our reaction to the world, and those who have less than we, is how we show our greatness. I went to a Catholic college although I am not a Catholic. The sisters were Benedictines and at the end of the robes and coif. They were participants in everything in life. Competent women, with scary energy, they taught us by example. The Benedictine rule says to treat each man (person) as if they were Christ himself at your door, to open and allow the hospitality of a heart to go forward by helping another. See, Sisters, I did listen. So that is what I do. I’m not a Christian, that part didn’t stick, but I got all of the really important parts. That’s what makes me angry about this person’s blog.

He had no interest in doing something for others. He sat back and attacked those very children that I believe in with no background, no investigation, and was smug about it. He was more worried that I had sworn on his page ONCE, than he was concerned about the young of this country, who by the way, will run his retirement home and future medical care. He was lazy in approaching the matter of the right to be involved. He was lazy in throwing out a point of view without researching it, and he was lazy disregarding any point of view but his own. He offended me. I lost my temper. I swore and demanded that he was better than what he had written. At that point, I offended him and lost all pretense of being able to be fair and impartial, able to discuss and listen, and I was wrong.

I have a new friend who says if you go into a conversation with your mouth hanging open, you won’t learn anything. It took him an hour to condense his comments to that line. He’s a wise man. He thought before he spoke, synthesized what I said into what he understood, checked his clarity before he responded, and then he did respond. I should have acted more like that. I didn’t. I am a passionate woman about a lot of things. Sometimes I let that passion out to play and it doesn’t always play nicely with others. I’ll work on that. In the meantime, be aware that those young people (under 50) who are participating in the world right now are under my protection. I may not be much protection, but I’m there in the wings waiting to see if they need me. I’ll work on that think before I speak thing, I’m usually pretty quiet, but it will take time.

I guess that I believe in progress forward, a planet we can live on, policies that do not injure, and that we had better start participating before we blow each other up, again. So, Mr. Columnist, whom I shall not name, but will send this link to, you are right. I did blow up and hold you to my standard, not understanding what yours it, and yes, I did use one word that I should never have used. There is no excuse for my words that were written in hot white heat. I judged you. I annoyed you. I went over the top. Passion is no excuse for bad manners. So I apologize to you. I hope you will understand that you touched a nerve within my soul, but please understand that that was no reason for me reacting like I did.

Ann White

Where was I when the Night Caught Fire?

A response to https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/where-were-you/#respond

Where was I when the night caught fire?
Alone as always I am alone,
Waiting for a wave of compassion or science,
Of fiction or poetry, Of well baked pies,
Where was I when the night caught fire?
Trembling on the floor, angry and hurt,
Disbelieving that yet again you left me
Without looking back. So I stood on the porch,
Watching the blaze from dead stars as their
Ashes reigned down and buried those
Without umbrellas to protect them.
I waited that night for someone to notice,
For parent, child, friend, but the silence burned
Through any preconception I had of friendship.
Where was I when the night caught fire?
Writing oceans of water to extinguish the flames.

Caucasian? White? To Blame?

If you are Caucasian, they
don’t give you the right to color.
You are branded by incandescent
Light bulbs which bleach and leach the
Color out of your existence.
“Be remorseful, for this is your done deed.”
But I’m not remorseful, no, not me.
I’m not a defiler, derider, denier.
I am the daughter of the 60s, born in the 50s,
Sent into the future, now past, to be.
Yes, to be liberal, caring, sharing.
Don’t blame my color for the criminal’s
Crime. I fought for us, the social bottom.
Where my eyes have always been open,
My family fought to insure their message would survive.
I’m not to blame for other handheld knives
In throats blameless and innocent.
There is a knife in my throat, exposing me
As red blooded human in the act of surviving.

Cee’s Oddball Challenges:Looking for a Hard Day’s Knight And Ann’s an Oddball

https://ceenphotography.com/category/cees-challenges/

It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been sleeping like a log. Yes, I’m borrowing these words. After the week we’ve all had, a Knight is what we need to save the spirit, the body, the soul and to snare the sneaking dragons hiding in our cardboard boxes.

It hasn’t been easy, but the spirit of the fight is still in me. Mother dragons are like that. We always find a way to come back from the outside. Since yesterday I didn’t know where I was or when I was, I’ve come a long long way. I picked out a car that I will buy so I can go to therapy, it’s lovely. A 2017 Mint colored spark with a black interior, back up cameras and has been crashed tested by my mother so it’s safe. I’ve read all of the new material on nutrition that they gave me at the hospital. I’ve worked on healing the bruises that the hospital put on ever spot on my body and I’m looking a bit like the dragon below. I’m just a little more scaly and blinking in the bright light. Sleep all day and feel almost normal. Tomorrow is the calling of the dragons, I mean doctors, for new appointments.

I don’t think I will ever go back to an emergency room no matter what the docs recommend. The Techs were great, the nurses swarmed around non-stop, but the docs in this particular employment situation called hospitalers didn’t have the experience with me as an individual and didn’t make contact with my regular doctors. There was only one who interacted with me as if I were important enough to actually meet, the rest blew me off. “You want to go home, don’t you?” Yeah, but I’d also like to know who I am, why I’m there and what is going on. Yesterday morning I didn’t know any of that. I thought I was part of the Mars Exhibition. Either that or I was back in the US Army, or was that band camp. Never went to band camp, but it would have fit the picture. SO here’s my photo. I’m the oddball and off into a new week we go.

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