Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An American Work Project


From a Managerial Perspective

These work encounters are based on true stories.

 The employee in the following story was a quiet employee who turned over the course of months into a hypochondriac with excuses and outrageous ailments turning up each month.

Manager to employee at retail clothing store on a busy weekend night: "Can you ring this woman up, I need to help that man over there find a shirt."  The manager begins to walk away.
Employee: "No, I can't reach the register."
Manager: "What do you mean you can't reach the register?"
Employee: (lackadaisicaly points to her leg) "See, twisted my ankle" (holds up an ice bag)
Manager to woman customer: "I'll get you here Miss." (Manager cuts in front of the sitting employee to use the register. A line is beginning to form at the counter)
Manager whispers to employee: "Why didn't you call in sick?"
Employee: "I did earlier this week. The supervisor said I can't call in sick anymore."
Manager to customer: "There you are. Have a nice day." (hands her the shopping bag)
Manager: "So, what can you do on that?" (points to the injured leg in question)
Employee: "Nothing"
Manager: "Fantastic"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Introduction to "An American Work Project"

This is a compilation of funny stories or quotes inspired in part by The Office, which was not too exaggerated to represent the workforce tales of people I have known.  This collection is in its infancy, as I am presently interviewing and collecting stories by the day to make others laugh from their unforgettable moments that, for good or for bad, they can not ignore. One reason this project called on me to develop it, is because of the everlasting relationship of work to Americans, as it defines us.  This introductory excerpt is a fictionalized adaptation of tales from work in the years 2000-2014.  Some of these examples below may be pure fiction, as this is the safest method of delving into issues involved with some of the more reckless and outlandish of environments. Others are quotes I have been given or overheard from either from one workplace or another, or from family and trusted friends. Stories and exact quotes have been changed enough, leaving out names, business types, and other specific details as to render them indistinguishable from fiction.

Customer:  "The day Sarah found out her father died, she was in the middle of her shift and she just went right back to work, never took any time off... Isn't that amazing? What a good worker!"  Worker:  "Well, if it was me, you wouldn't want me at work, I'd be devastated...but I'm sure every person is different."

Worker: "They let hundreds of people go. Our department is cut in half. One of the men I work with, I do all of his work now that he's gone. Friend: "Seriously, you do all of his work? Did you get a pay increase for that?"  Worker: "No."

Woman walks into a business to drop off a resume: "Are you currently hiring for this position?" Front desk employee: "No we hired a girl for this position recently and she called in sick all the time. A few times she called in for just being on her period."  "Okay. So you're getting rid of the position?" (woman asks, bewildered) "Yes" the female employee at the front desk responds.  "Okay, well, thanks for your time." Woman walks away with resume still in hand.

A veteran employee walks past management office and hears lots of banging. He waits until two managers come out. "What's going on in there? Everyone alright?" asks the employee. " Yes", answers the assistant manager. "Should we tell him?" he asks the main manager. "Sure" says the main manager. "There's a mouse that lives in the wall connecting your office to ours. We've named her Mrs. Fandango."  "How long has it lived here?" The employee asks. "Several years", answers the manager. (veteran employee shudders, thinking of all his food that was left uncovered)

This is the beginning of An American Work Project, subsequent blogs will contain as many as 50 to 100 workforce tales both from fiction and altered nonfiction.  Please enjoy and laugh or sigh along with them as I have.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bakery Cats and Too Many Cinnamon Rolls

When Fuzz and Cami opened their bakery they were sure that their prize-winning cinnamon rolls were just what they needed. Their friends loved the cinnamon rolls and bought dozens of them when they had their grand opening last week.  Their family also loved the rolls with the fish flavored glaze. It was an old recipe from Great Grandma Gladys.
Yes, their first week at Slurp Bakery had gone by fast. It was Friday and the cats were looking forward to the weekend. Fuzz put the last batch of rolls in front of Cami so she could put the icing on. The sweet smell of butter and cinnamon filled the air.

It was a lovely morning in Pawston.  Fuzz and Cami watched the sun slowly rising from their storefront window.  Their business, Slurp Bakery, had been open for only one week. Fuzz was in charge of baking the delicious cinnamon rolls and keeping track of how much money they were making. Cami was in charge of decorating, cleaning, and making sure the customers were happy and kept coming back.

They decided that each Friday they would meet and talk about how things with their new shop were going.  "I'm disappointed." said Fuzz.  We have not made enough money from the cinnamon rolls to keep our shop open.  "These things take time Fuzz. Please put your report away now. It's our first customer of the day." replied Cami.  The store bell rang. Fuzz became an orange blur as he lurched for the kitchen. His tail knocked pages from his report onto the floor.

Melanie, a Doberman in a striking power suit, walked in.  She had come to Slurp Bakery once before. Hi Cami! I was wondering if you had anything other than cinnamon rolls today. My workers said they like doughnuts."
"Well, we don't have anything other than these rolls, but they have two different kinds of icing, creamy and fish flavored."
Melanie peered at the glass cases. "I see. Do you have rolls with chicken icing?" 
"No, sorry. This is all we have. Can I get you some fish rolls?" 
"No thank you. Do you know where I can get doughnuts on this side of Pawston. I don't want to go across town." 
"No. I'm sorry, I don't."  Cami's face reddened. Melanie left empty-handed with no wag to her tail.

"Okay Fuzz, she's gone." Fuzz sneaked out from his favorite hiding spot by the oven.  Cami continued. "I think I know what we need to do to help us to stay at this bakery." 
"Oh, what is that?" he asked.
"Melanie told me she works across the street and that they like doughnuts."
"But, we only have cinnamon rolls." said Fuzz.
"Right, do you think we could figure out a good doughnut recipe?"
"My Great Grandma Gladys doesn't make doughnuts." 
"Maybe we can make a new glaze for our rolls then." Cami offered.
"Why would we want a new glaze?" 
"Fuzz, there are a lot of dogs in Pawston and they want a chicken glaze."
"That is impossible Cami! We don't know how and we don't have the ingredients. It's true Melanie works across the street but that doesn't mean everyone will want doughnuts and chicken glaze.  Look, another customer is coming. We can talk about this later." Fuzz scampered back to his warm spot by the oven.
It was a shy, grey kitten with amber eyes. He pointed to a fish roll. "One, please." "Certainly" said Cami who was ready with her spatula. She scooped a gooey roll onto a paper plate. "Would you like this in a bag?" The kitten nodded. He looked in awe at the brown paper bag and smiled. "Thank you." "You're welcome." The kitten pounced out of their store.  Fuzz shouted from the kitchen, "See, I told you. Our customers want our rolls!"

Before Cami got the chance to argue with him, the store bell rang a large Boxer dog entered. "Hello Sir. What can I help you with today?" "Do you have any doughnuts?" "No I'm sorry Sir." Cami was getting frustrated. The dog was nice enough, but left Slurp without buying a thing.

Next, a fluffy white cat came in. It was one of Cami's friends who worked across the street. "Hi Pearl! What can I get for you?"
"Do you have any sandwiches? I'm really hungry and forgot to bring my lunch."
"No, sorry, we just have cinnamon rolls."
"Okay. I thought I'd check. I still like your rolls! Pearl waved and left without a bag.

Cami sulked. Fuzz felt sorry for his friend behind the register. "It's alright Cami. We'll do better next week." Fuzz scooped out one cream and one fish roll and began quickly eating his lunch. "Ugh, that's so gross to have for lunch Fuzz. Those are treats, not a meal!" She got out a brown paper bag and ate her tuna sandwich next to him. They didn't talk for the rest of their lunch.

They waited for the bell on the door to ring but all was silent. They watched workers walk by the storefront window on their lunch breaks. Fuzz opened the glass case again and served himself another two rolls. Cami shut the case and cleaned his hand print off the glass.

Her ears tilted back as she scrubbed. "Look at all these rolls! I am so mad! More people have asked for doughnuts than rolls. What can I say? No, get a roll. What's that Pearl, you want a sandwich? Too bad, get a roll! There are so many cinnamon rolls! ROLLS, ROLLS, ROLLS!"

Fuzz didn't know what to do. Whenever he didn't know what to do, he took a nap. He napped and napped. When he finally woke up, he felt refreshed. Now, he knew what to do. "Cami I'm going to take my afternoon break." "Fine." She thought the nap should have counted as his break but was too upset to argue.
When he came back, the doorbell jarred Cami awake from her own nap. Fuzz brought in bags and bags of groceries.  "What is all of this?" She asked. Fuzz held up some bread, cheese, and meats. "We can try a few changes to the menu and if they work...we can keep them. I got doughnut and sandwich ingredients. This is on one condition."  "What's that?"  "You have to let me eat whatever I want from the bakery."
"I promise, you can eat whatever you want. We can have doughnuts and sandwiches?"
"There are items to make chicken glaze too." He added.
Cami helped him unpack. "Thanks Fuzz. This will make our customers happy."
"It's only if it works! Our customers have to like the new items, you know?"
"I know." She was so happy she pranced around as she put the goods in a cupboard.
On Monday, Fuzz and Cami came in early and made rolls, doughnuts, and sandwiches. Cami spread the chicken glaze icing on a few of the rolls. They seemed to be selling a few more items day by day. By the time Friday came they were already much happier. They began their meeting. "Things are looking up." said Fuzz The doorbell surprised them. They baked so many items that morning, they almost lost track of time. "It's our first customer of the day." Cami announced.
"Hi Melanie." "Hi Cami. I'll have a cream roll. Wait, you have doughnuts?" "Yep." "I'll have one, make that two, dozen."
"Fuzz, I need your help."  They packed two bags full of doughnuts . "My workers will love these. Thanks." They thanked her. Melanie left with her tail wagging.
Then the shy little grey kitten with amber eyes came in. "I would like a fish roll."  "We now carry doughnuts and cheese or beef sandwiches. We also have chicken glaze." "Just the fish roll." said the crouching kitten. He batted at the bag a few times and then pounced out of the store.  Fuzz stayed in his warm spot next to the oven. He was half asleep, exhausted from all the baking he had done that morning.
The store bell rang again and in walked the large Boxer dog. He put his puffy cheeks up to the glass and sniffed around. "I smell doughnuts!" "Yep. Would you like one Sir?" "I'll have two." Cami put the two doughnuts in the bag. The dog's bobbed tail waved wildly back and forth.

Fuzz came out and helped himself to a fish roll snack. They had another cat customer. Next, Pearl came in and purchased a cheese sandwich for her lunch. She stayed and ate with Fuzz and Cami before heading back to work. 
"These new cheese sandwiches are wonderful!"  "Well, you baked them! They are better for you too. So, Fuzz, things are looking up?" "Yep, the new items are helping our bakery. We should be fine if we keep paying attention to what everyone wants. Just do me a favor." "What's that?" "Don't tell my Great Grandma Gladys!" They laughed.

The store bell kept ringing that afternoon.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Gardens Teach Us about Life

I have learned a lot in the short time I've been gardening. In over a decade of apartment life; I had to find other outlets for tinkering with herbs, flowering bushes, plants, and trees. Now that I own a home and a yard there are plenty of places for my experiments. Gardens are a celebration. In a non-deliberate and often gentle way, they reflect their owner's personality. What do gardens teach us? I'll share a few of their lessons.

Life is beautiful:  I'm guessing blood pressure drops with exposure to fresh air or when entering a garden environment in general. Even if there weren't health benefits; gardens feed us in every way. If they weren't beautiful, we wouldn't need gardens around hospitals for patients, or recreational gardens with walking paths, and rose gardens.

Don't miss an opportunity:  An empty lawn is like a blank canvas. Before I became a novice lawn decorator, I saw a friend's empty backyard and our planning began. We framed her fence and edges all around with an array of perennials like roses, Russian sage, and lamb's ear. We loved to move plants to new spots to see how they would look aesthetically and how the plants would prosper or fill-out by the corner of the house, along and through the fence, or bordering the garage. Beginning with a few flowers, it spiraled into a full garden. It is a lot like moving furniture when you move plants- in that you can never quite tell how it will work until you try it in the new spot. When you get a garden thriving, the negative space becomes precious in both a utilitarian and ornamental fashion. The unused portions of the garden can guide the onlooker's eyes along the edges and back into the lush landscape.

Survival is fragile, even fickle:  Over 80% of gardeners attempt to plant tomatoes, which are native to the United States. Tomatoes are sturdy but not fool-proof. They need full sun and the right amount of water.  It isn't a plant you can entirely ignore.  Still, tomatoes are manageable. There are plenty of other plants that are finicky or strange or do not adapt well to other climate zones. I suppose people are not all that different from plants. Some are hardy, while others are delicate. Some are dependable while others are flighty; some are invasive while others keep to themselves. There are many varieties to choose from.

A little effort goes a long way:  Delicate plants can be fragile, while others are hard to pare down. If you've ever planted hostas, you know they'll just sit there as promised and come back ever year like clockwork. Daffodils, tulips, bleeding hearts, are similarly predictable. Lily of the valley and mint are both aromatic and love to spread. They need uprooting and restriction methods.

Nature relaxes us, even a little of it:  Bright colors are good for your brain and so is fresh air. By gardening you are going outside more. You're even burning more calories toting those pots, bags, and watering cans around. Besides these stress relievers, gardens teach us to plant and let go to a certain extent.  Not every plant is perfect or exact. 

Patience is a virtue:  When you aren't thinking about it your plants are outside growing. You find one day, your plants are changing how you wanted them to. For example, we have a newly-planted baby Magnolia tree adorning the front yard. It was planted at a tilted angle by the store's delivery service. With a tiny bit of staking and tying to guide it straight, it was a pleasant surprise when it was no longer leaning. Gardens are full of gifts and unexpected ongoings.

Your patience pays off:  In a garden, things are happening with or without you. Nothing is happening in a garden to a non-gardener. Maybe a butterfly passes by. The understanding that you encouraged the butterfly to live there goes missing. This year's new experiment is adding vegetables. I have never eaten anything from my own garden yet. Fresh food should not be a disappointment.

You have some control over your life:  There are about a million metaphors for planting, gardening, and watching life grow. As a gardener, you have the freedom to take what you are given and put it in this earth. You can swap and trade plants out with friends. You can gift tomatoes or rhubarb if you have a good yield. You can pick bouquets for your dining room table. Most importantly, you can do, or plant, precisely whatever you want.

 photo 27dad7e1-86a0-4ba9-bf69-d79142e83da4_zps7413ee9c.jpg

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Into Thin Air, Everest Book Review

Into Thin Air is to date the most popular book about climbing Mount Everest and that is intriguing considering it centers around one of the worst Mount Everest catastrophes ever.  While it's true that real life disasters will often draw a reading audience; the author who is chosen to document them is held up to certain standards like personal reliability, accountability, and responsibility.  This is particularly true concerning the tragedy presented in this story, where dreams for the price of several thousands of dollars are at stake.  As a survivor overcoming dangerous conditions, Krakauer's harrowing tale became a quick controversy when published.  Krakauer's experience with Mount Everest began in the spring of 1996, at the peak of what is known as the summit season.

As one picks this book up off the shelf it is likely that he or she might be judgmentally tempted to set it back down.  Yes, some audiences are drawn to tragedy but hoards of others settle for pick-me-up reads.  Another hurdle for a reader new to the nonfiction, adventure sports section is; why do people want to climb Everest?  These people must be nuts.  Krakauer, an outdoors man, tackles this immediately by sharing his own history and encounters with mountain climbing and hiking and his initial lack of enthusiasm when first confronted with this daunting proposition.  In the end, his decision to accept climbing Mount Everest was propelled by both a desire to report this cutting-edge opportunity as a journalist and a desire to continue furthering his athleticism.  There was a story to cover and his bid to climb would be paid for and expertly led by one guide, or another.

With the release of Into Thin Air, Krakauer's actions were not without criticism.  He had to pass by others in the death zone who were likely already consumed by their drunken, oxygen starved mental states.  He agonizingly details those moments as they occurred.  In the end, it is hard to accuse a survivor; one who could have just as easily lingered too long on the rooftop of the world only to stammer and freeze or stumble off. 

Jon Krakauer has an effortless ability to utilize quotes to preface chapters in a way that is both holistic and concise for the given chapters.  This book exhibits many of them and they are apt.  These quotes are derived from several climbing predecessors or legends, such as Eric Shipton and Sir Edmund Hillary, as they documented and examined their own unique conquests.  Included within them is the notion that the mountain has not changed much; only the methods used to summit it have.

Krakauer did respect the fallen as well as accentuate positive elements that existed before the deadly storm encapsulated them.  He paid tribute to the lost guides, Sherpas, and both expert and novice climbers.  Rest assured, if you haven't already read this book (and are entirely skeptical); after you read it you will not want to climb Mount Everest any more than when you first picked it up.  That is a relief. 

No matter how you read the book, Krakauer's encounter reminds us there will always be questions raised for the survivors in life or death situations where others' lives are lost.  In the end, our attention is drawn to the top of the mountain where two competing, seemingly-expert guides never escaped the freezing storm as it worsened before their eyes, looming in front of each step.  It is hard to forget them.  It is difficult to put down a book that both celebrates the passion and drive of these mountaineers as it simultaneously exposes their folly in overextending and misjudging their own abilities or mental states.  This was their final attempt at achieving greatness by reaching the top of the world. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ten Hazards of Writing

Here is a satirical chart on the ten most dangerous obstacles that writers face today.  This list includes a threat level scale number.  One is not too hazardous and ten is so hazardous that you will need to find a solution.

1.  Retina Damage:  Coffee + reading and writing all day= eyes sticking shut.  When I began profusely writing again; I didn't think this would be an issue.  Get a pack of eye drops, you'll be fine, I told myself.  I was wrong.  If you are prone to migraines or belong to several social media networks the severity of this hazard will undoubtedly increase.

Threat level: 10 because it is hard to read or write without your eyes if you are used to using them!

2.  Flip-Flopping:  Either you or your character is making an opinion on a topic.  All of the sudden, you realize that you or your character has drastically changed their opinion or become out of character midway through.  How did this happen?  Was it by having too many counter arguments or playing both sides of an issue?   The worst thing that can happen is if you change the way you perceive a topic.  Let's entertain the notion that you have completely changed your mind about a topic you previously wanted to address .  A complete flip-flop in point of view will require either massive rewrites or an entirely new topic. Thankfully, this usually occurs only on the small-scale. 

Threat level:  This is a 7, depending, because you can revise this.  The negative is that if it keeps happening you might need a new topic altogether.  On the opposite end, if it's a trivial character's flip-flop, not your own, it might only be a 2.

3.  Junk Writing:  You're on overdrive but you want to meet your writing deadline(s).  You produce something that is unsatisfactory.  Runners call this type of plowing-onward action "junk mileage".  This translates and is something all its own.  Akin to when runners over-train themselves in logging junk mileage; this action can lead to multiple hazards or injuries.  A writer's injuries can include flip-flopping or changes of voice that might not have otherwise occurred under less-rigid deadlines.

Threat level:  An unavoidable 6. There's no quick fix. However, with this junk you acquire some building-blocks and pieces that can be adapted into your final written-work.

4.  Character Voice:  This is not to be confused with your overall narrating technique, or stylistic voice.  At some point in your story, like flip-flopping, you realize there is an unintentional inconsistency in the presentation of one of your characters.  It's in their dialogue.  Did a character from Texas forget his or her twang?  Consistency is key.  Perhaps, the character was supposed to be a teenage boy and came out sounding like a raspy old man in a conversation.  What ever the case may be, your character needs to stay his or herself. It is unlikely they aged sixty years unless you followed this character over a large time period.

Threat level:  A simple 4.  Voice is typically easier to rewrite than flip-flopping assuming you have a thorough knowledge of your characters.

5.  General Paranoia:  Reasons aside, you're to some degree introverted.  You have a lot of time to yourself when you're writing.  You lead a quiet life, others tell you.  There are times you're not shy and times that you are.  However, as you write you notice the "quietness" is slowly leaving your life after others read it because they are an audience.  As much as you want to close yourself off; opening yourself up through your characters is inevitable for good writers.  It is.  You're providing a worthwhile concept and your audience is appreciative.  The more people who read your work and the more you open yourself up; the more you unintentionally begin some delusional thinking.  It's instinct.  You envision a chilling scene from Misery. You imagine people or things inhibiting you from writing.

Threat level: Unpredictable at best. This is a 2-3 if it is no real concern, as in you've only thought of it once. The solution is, of course, to shake off the nightmare mentality.  If you are a bestselling author this will be more difficult and the "paranoia" may be more of a legit concern.

6.  Entertainment Deprivation:  Yes, your writing is its own entertainment.  You are human though and boredom wears many hats.  You are having to sacrifice some time spent with your friends or family.  You might need to DVR your favorite television show or movies.  In fact, they are practically full in the recording line-up because you haven't had the opportunity and won't watch them any time soon.  Luckily, you love writing.  It never occurred to you to count reading in the mix because you can't go without that for long.  Although, truth be told, you sometimes put that on hold as well to meet writing deadlines.

Threat level: This is a 2-3. Once you finish that deadline, you'll find that Kindle or remote. Right, Right?!

7.  Physical Breakdown or Carpal Tunnel:  It's not your eyes; it's that one shoulder.  Your back hates sitting.  Maybe you need a rest but you're not finished yet.  Now you're just hoping you can keep your specific physical ailment at bay.  As you type the last word of the day, your fingers curl and resign into a gnarly, knotted mass, not unlike tree roots.

Threat level: This varies with age and specific condition.  Anyone above 30 will likely be over the 5 point mark.

8.  Inner Narration:  You thought all the mental awkwardness was gone because you've passed the stage of General Paranoia. Well, think again. Now you're just trying to enjoy an evening with friends and you realize you might have described that restaurant you are all going to with way too much precision.  Perhaps, it was laden with detail.  Either way, someone noticed before you could catch it and threw a glance your way.  Time to tone it down?   If you're in good company; friends or family might react the other way and enable your harmless narrating shenanigans.  They might even join in.  This is when your excessive inner narration shines outwardly.

Threat level:  If you're walking down the street muttering to yourself; you're an 8.  If your friends join in you're down to a 5 or below.  Pare down your narrations when you can.  You'll still have muttering in your mind which comes with its own set of issues like daydreaming and "forgetting" what others just told you.

9.  Relationships:  Remember all those writing deadlines that kept you from television?  Now, they are running over into your personal life a smidgen.  You family and friends miss you and not in a social media "miss you" way.  Okay, so your social media friends do truly miss you.  At any rate, the ones that are there for you, the humans, genuinely need your attention.

Threat level:  If you have kids under 18; your rate is automatically over 5.  Your rate with relationships depends mostly on how much contact and presence you demand or need. 

10.  Deja`vu:  You're writing is finished for the time being.  You sit down to watch one of those movies from your overstocked line-up.  The movie is a new release, a box-office smash.  Yet, you sense something familiar.  It might begin like deja` vu until you realize that in the movie it's your setting location and two of your character's names from your novel.  Then you write an article and find a few of the ideas are already "out there".  Of course there is a chance that some of your ideas are already out there somewhere.  This world had lots of people with lots of fascinating ideas crammed in their brains.  Plus, add the cliche` that "great minds think alike".  You'll just have to get over it.  Yes, I know, we are all still unique little snowflakes.

Threat level:  It depends on the amount of repetition and the type.  Was the plot or theme completely taken and thus tanked.  Or did the writer, author, or artist take your idea and put a separate spin on it?  Once you get a few overlapped ideas on one piece of writing you are at about a 4.  It is correctable.  Revise and re-word where necessary.  Writers have various subjects to unravel and methods of doing such.  Repetition can be odd, but, turnabout is fair play.  Bear in mind exceptions like carbon-copies or possible legal issues.  Luckily, these are rare. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Haiku and Haiku Riddles

Writing haiku is an excellent practice for transforming your ideas and concepts into a few concentrated words.

Here are a few spring and summer inspired haiku:

March and hear the slosh 
Children dance at winter's end
drumming up flowers

The first flowers grow-
bright violets and daffodils
spring up from the rain
How long does it take-
leaf-crunching caterpillar
to unfold and fly?

Bushes of roses
the bumblebee moseys through
abundant bounties
These are literary haiku riddles. Guess the author, book, or character they are written about.

Explosion of jazz
recklessness and wealth excels
Young man in sorrow-
run away with me sister
everyone is fake
They make me burn books
I can't do it anymore
store them, keep them safe
Found a shiny thing
I took it from some creature-
back to simple life
If you pee blue-green
don't take the meds they give you
you will be sterile

I'm a prankster boy
I see my own funeral
friends gawk, family weeps

Love conquers, divides
our families are enemies
eternally young

Troubled southern town
Justice waiting on your wings
child's epiphany

Paul Simon Quotes

 Paul Simon deserves his own quote page.  He not only has a melodic voice, but is a savvy lyricist as well.  Enjoy these quotes; I think some of them will increase in popularity in years to come.

Sometimes I see your face as if through reading glasses and your smile seems softer than it was.

We've survived by believing our life is going to get better.

Listen to the sounds of silence.

Who am I to blow against the wind?

If you can get humor and seriousness at the same time, you've created a special little thing, and that's what I'm looking for because if you get pompous, you've lost everything.

You want to be a writer, don't know how or when?  Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.

I've got nothing to do today but smile.

You know the nearer your destination the more you're slip slidin' away.

Losing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you're blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow.

And after it rains, there's a rainbow and all the colors are black. It's not that the colors aren't there; it's just the imagination they lack. Every thing's the same back in my little town.

Home is where my thought's escaping. Home is where my music's playing. Home is where my love lies waiting silently for me.

I'm more interested in what I discover than what I invent.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Happy Blue Cat Day!

One chilly morning in January, two tabby cats laid in the warm sunshine coming from a large deck window.  Fuzz looked up at the ceiling, his round belly turned up. He licked his orange fur again and again until it was perfectly straightened and clean.

He perched himself on a dining room chair trying to collect his cat thoughts for a few moments.  His favorite toddler Lily came charging out from the living room demanding his attention.  Lily stood with her arms wide apart and her voice rang out.  "Happy Blue Cat Day", she confidently informed Fuzz.  He looked at Lily tilting his head and then lowered himself to the floor.   

Fuzz was shocked.  Blue Cat Day, why hadn't he heard of this?  He looked at his own family suspiciously.  Did his owners forget this holiday?  Did they know about it at all?  They had enjoyed both winter holidays and there was still one left!  That was it!  Now that all the holidays were over, they simply got confused and must have neglected the most important holiday of all- the holiday for cats.  He had to find out how to celebrate Blue Cat Day.

Fuzz decided something must be done about this most important turn of events.  He immediately called to order a cat meeting in the hallway.  "Mew, meow" he called his friend Cami to join him.  Fuzz lurched to his central spot near a closet door.  As President of the OCB, Official Cat Business, he made sure he had the best seat in the house.  The Official Cat Business meeting was now underway. 

The OCB position for Cami was Vice President.  She quickly leaped to her spot beside the basement door; she took her role very seriously.  Cami, a beautiful brown tabby with piercing green eyes, was fearless, lean, and delicate.  Fuzz didn't see her arrive, she just appeared. "Mew" she answered.  Cami noticed Fuzz had an urgent expression on his face.  Still, he took a moment to straighten his whiskers.  Fuzz began, "It seems our family may have forgotten a special holiday, one for us cats to celebrate."  "Hum, a special holiday now?  It's a week after New Year's!" She lowered her emerald green eyes at him.  Cami was wise, beyond her eight years.

She knew to question Fuzz as he had recently seemed bored and had been calling many meetings.  He called meetings because he was hungry.  He had meetings about how to encourage the family to pet them and give them more attention. Fuzz even had meetings because he was irritated and wanted to squabble.  "Yes! The toddler knows of a holiday today that is called Blue Cat Day", Fuzz continued.  "Blue Cat Day, are you sure? I have never heard of such a thing as a blue cat. What could Lily be talking about?"  Cami was puzzled.  "She seemed quite confident when she told me the news." Fuzz insisted.  "What could blue cat mean, Fuzz? I have met many kinds of cats. There are no blue ones." 
She knowingly licked her paw. 

"I know, that is the one part I don't understand. However, a celebration of cats makes complete sense", Fuzz insisted.  "Meow, exactly", Cami agreed.  "What do you suggest as a course of action to take?" Fuzz asked.  "You ask me, but you are President", said Cami.  "Yes, but you are the alpha cat", he replied.  "Agreed. The course of action will be to sneak around and find out what Blue Cat Day means. Then, we should question the family leaders as to their lack of involvement."  Cami was settled and happy with herself. 

The cats immediately went to their new tasks.  They saw their two family leaders in the living room.  Fuzz jumped onto a sofa and Cami sat on a bookcase.  They watched and watched as nothing happened.  Their owners sat there fixed on the television.  Suddenly, Lily came into the room toward Fuzz and again announced, "Happy Blue Cat Day".  The two family leaders laughed.  Cami gave a slight head nod of approval to Fuzz.  His story was matching up.  They drew closer to their family owners. 

Cami stared unflinching at the man, Jake.  Fuzz closed in on the woman, Natalie, also staring as he purred loudly.  "What's up guys, do you need food?" Natalie guessed.  Fuzz stopped purring and stared more fiercely than before.  "Are you two worried about Blue Cat Day?" Jake asked.  Jake and Natalie laughed.  Cami nudged Jake several times.  Fuzz purred louder.  "Happy...Blue Cat Day", exclaimed Lily.  Toddler Lily was thrilled as she got a blue crayon out of her box and began looking through her animal coloring book.  "Meow. She is making us decorations for our party", Fuzz told Cami.  Cami locked eyes with Fuzz in agreement.  "Well, I guess we could celebrate it", said Natalie. 

The cats relaxed.  All their hard work was coming to life before their eyes!  "Let me get you two some of your special food."  Natalie petted them as they argued a little over who could have the most of the tender morsel treats to eat.   They speedily licked the delicious sauce out of the dish.  They paused only to clean up the tasty spots that had splashed from the dish onto the fur of their heads and faces.  They discovered there was a celebration of cats today.  Fuzz and Cami were relieved.  They had almost lost the opportunity to celebrate being a cat.  After they had finished every last morsel, they continued to look out the window for the mysterious blue cat that made their holiday. They wondered when and if they would see one.  They spent the rest of the day getting much more attention and pettings from Jake and Natalie than usual.  Fuzz and Cami were satisfied.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What a Novel Idea

Please see this disclaimer:  I approach this topic, not as an absolute expert, but as a surveyor and responder of an enriching, newly found experience.  I always wished in college I had either the "time" or the circumstance to take more upper-level writing courses (took all of the lower and mid-level ones that I could!) on how to develop and craft a novel.  Proceed with caution, as writing a novel is an act of dedication and patience.  If you are already a writer avidly practicing writing; I challenge you.  What's the harm?  What's the worst thing that can happen--public embarrassment or writer's block?  Sure, that's scary, but it can't be much worse than a bad day on social media.

Of course, novels will not take minutes, but days, and in some cases years.  Much like love, if it is meant to be it will just happen.  It won't happen directly from reading this blog.  At least, I doubt it.  This idea, when you're ready, will occur to you on your own.  We're all lucky in that we live in an age where it is easier to share ideas nearly instantaneously, with the touch of a button.  Many authors have not taken this for granted.  There are more self promoted and self published authors seeking audiences than ever. 

Before seeking some sort of audience, it behooves you to search and discover subjects in the corners of your mind and the backdrop of your life, in order to find a worthy story first.  If you're skeptical, that's okay.  It might not be the right time.  Although, let us examine the concept behind that 1987 U2 song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".  Writers, did that stop Bono and The Edge from crafting such lyrical, philosophical excellence?  I'm not accusing U2 members of writer's block, especially since Bono explained the song was spiritually based.  However, if you'll take notice, plenty of popular music is about that very subject.  Take this one for an example, Natasha Bedingfield's song "Unwritten".  It's almost as if the songwriters had nothing else to write about and thus began by tackling the absence that is not having a subject at all.  Take your own road.  Mine is the philosophical approach to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".  Why else would I write?  It's a search and discover mission.

Clever writers encourage the notion that when you find a solid story idea, you will start writing and ask yourself questions during the process and afterwards.  If you are writing and refining your work, the novel might even show up at your place.  "Hi there, say, I noticed you've been writing about me a whole lot lately. We haven't been seeing other people. You've just been writing about me, your topic. I was wondering if we might start seeing where this takes us."  It could happen.

A novel in its most simple state is only a longer, more connected format for exhibiting your best efforts in storytelling.  Before you even begin to consider such an endeavor, you might want to read.  This is a glaring assumption that you're not already.  That's all I see veteran authors write about and agree upon. Read novels and research your fiction or non-fiction subjects.  Prepare yourself in between reading and writing.  You can search and read articles with writing techniques: 
It's a matter of preference whether you'll choose to stay with insightful short works like blogs or take on a more lengthy journey like novel writing.  As this article mentions, the only thing stopping you is whether you want to write one or not.  That is your choice.

In case you are curious on some novel writing techniques:
Here are some generous ideas on how to begin developing a novel from Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D. who teaches writing and sells his book with "The Snowflake Method" concept.
This article suggests a structured format with pre-configured conflicts and obstacles.  Sequential maps do help with organizing writing.  You can change and re-organize anything while novel writing.
At worst, good writers will have salvageable pieces that they can re-work, re-draft, and transplant into different formats.  When you have the will to write it, you will find the time.

I am currently writing my first novel.  I am prepared, financially and emotionally, if it is never mass-market printed or small-market printed.  My supportive family still wants me to write it.  It will take a lengthy time to write.  My friends will put it on their old-school bookshelves, or download it on their electronic ones. 

I will make some sacrifices--like what I consider to do for free time.  Blogs might be occasional book reviews instead of personal stories.  As a planner and marathon runner, I converted my routine into logging not mileage per week, but words per week.  When I am finished with this one, I'll have to revise and rewrite parts of it.  Then, I will write another one--for better or for worse.  It's like when Lady Gaga married the night.  You will marry novel writing.  If you are married, please note, do not ignore your real spouse with your new adventure.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What Is Calm?

"What Is Calm?" is a short story or collection of ideas for children of all ages and adults.  De-stress from your day and unwind as you reveal every serene moment.  Discover and picture each of these peaceful experiences.   Join and experiment by adding your own memories of what is calm.

What Is Calm?
What is calm? 
Calm is a long ocean wave that rolls, spirals, and folds.
Calm is so many deep and full breaths. 
Calm is a walk in the winding woods, crunching each soft step in rhythm.
Calm is a bright green tree swaying gently.
Calm is the surrender to sleeping outside in the fresh air of a warm day.
Calm is Grandma making herbal tea.
Calm are the butterflies fluttering in the fragrant garden.
Calm is the sweet scent of lilac and magnolia trees in full bloom.
Calm is no deadlines and a hammock swinging in a tropical breeze.
Calm is a serenade of summer frogs croaking in harmony.
Calm is Grandpa dozing off in his favorite chair.
Calm are the content birds playing hide and seek.
Calm is a gentle rain sprinkling each leaf.
Calm is a child's teddy bear.
Calm is a lullaby beckoning sleep.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Coffee Confessions

Edgar Allan Poe's birthday was this week.  With him, the subject of addiction tends to surface.  Poe gets harassed from the grave with this topic, as scientists have even tested a lock of his hair for traces of lead in efforts to prove the cause of death was his alcoholism. Relax, the lead was in alcohol from the early to mid 1800's, not today.  Well, was the cause of his death alcohol related?  Nope, it was maybe cats. He may have died of rabies from an animal bite. Cats, at times, get a bad rap themselves.  According to animal hoarders, they are also another addiction.

Much like coffee, the word "addiction" is strong.  Rather than think of ourselves as addicts, it helps to sugarcoat it with terms like aficionado and enthusiast.  "I'll quit coffee tomorrow."  This is what I tell myself. It sounds right out of a brochure, doesn't it?  It has been over a year now that I've had coffee every day, except for maybe one week.  That's something that could be said at a meeting of Coffee Drinkers Anonymous, if it existed.  What's the problem with having only one or two cups a day?  It's not like slugging down a pot; my friends console me.  I scarcely hear of anyone who can handle, or stomach, an entire pot of coffee daily.  I assume that breed is a rare species.

It has been brought up a couple of times by friends that we must beware of coffee pairings.  What goes well with coffee can seep over into other lifestyle choices.  In fact, those of us who crave sugar are perhaps more apt to pour on the bitter, brown beverage.  What goes well with coffee?  Pair it with a sweet scone, a doughnut, a pastry, or a slice of pie.  I have seen cookie dough as an offering on a drive-up coffee shop's menu. Yes, it was raw dough.

There are certain implications of coffee drinkers as a group.  Coffee drinkers who drink more than the mainstream coffee brands sometimes go to special markets and you can spot them in coffee shops.  In order to be a real snob though, you have to refuse any and all commercial coffee.  I'm not quite that picky.  You can make inferences that connect coffee shops to the arts, as musical bands sometimes perform there and eye-catching paintings cling to the walls. 

If I can get sappy for a second, there is an emotional draw to consider.  This emotional draw stirs up memories of families sharing brews together. Along with them are the occasional drinkers who only partake during holidays.  Then, there is a socialization factor.  Although very few people I've met have said to me, "I met the love of my life at a coffee shop", it is still a place to make small business contacts or a few friends.  For writers these places are, in part, research labs.

Admittedly, I have gone to great lengths to vanquish this addiction. I switched to decaffeinated for six months in efforts to curb the entire practice.  There is only one type of de-caf that tastes like regular and I only pick it up when visiting family in another city.  There have been plenty of times I've fantasized about throwing the glass coffee pot over my balcony to watch it tumble down the hill in the snow and hopefully end up in a ditch.  With this, I can further imagine waking up the next day and plodding through the snow just to retrieve it. Other futile attempts to stop drinking coffee include chucking the packaged grind, or in whole bean cases, the grinder itself on the highest shelves of our kitchen cupboards.  This simply required a chair to fetch it down the next morning.

Could it be that some of us are craving something more?  Is that why we are literally filling ourselves?  Perhaps, but it seems little to worry about if we don't know what the "something" is.  We must be realistic; we are not prisoners.  Maybe "we" coffee drinkers just don't want to quit enough.  Maybe life without its occasional perks is just a wee bit under-stimulating.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sparkle's New Home: A Children's Story

This is a children's story starring Sparkle the spunky Shih Tzu puppy who is faced with a confusing dilemma. All of her belongings are missing and her owners tell her she will be moving. Join Jerry, Linda, and little Sparkle on a journey moving from their home to an apartment. Enjoy this adventure that is based on a true story.
Sparkle's New Home
Sparkle yipped as she looked through the window.  She could see the mail carrier walking toward her in a blue skirt that swished with each step.  "Arrrrf", she chirpped to her the friendly greeting.  Sparkle and the mail carrier, Kristy, were good friends and had met many times over the years.  She wagged her tail, sniffed, and pawed lightly at the door.  Kristy delivered the mail and waved at Sparkle through the window.  Sparkle was sad to see her leave.  She went back to chasing her raccoon around with her trusty friend Linda.  Inside their house, things seemed to be changing.
(Picture of Sparkle watching and wagging through the front window.)
Sparkle looked at all the neatly stacked cardboard boxes in the corner of the room.  She raced up and down the long hallway but could not find her pile of toys!  At least she still had her raccoon, squeaky ball, and bone to chew on.  There was even delicious, crunchy food in the dish.

(Picture of room with lots of boxes stacked in the corner. This shows the entrance to the hallway. Sparkle is shown with the objects mentioned here.)

Suddenly, her owner Linda scooped her up in both arms and said, "Sparkle, today you must be very brave as I know you can be! Today we are moving to our new home. I hope you like it dear, fluffy princess!"  Linda patted her head between her two feathery plumes of ears.  Her dense coat of light-gray wispy fur shifted downward as Linda hugged her.  Then it popped back up and propelled itself into place.


Sparkle was curiously waiting as Linda carried some boxes out of the bedroom and brought them toward the front door.  She jumped into the large window and peeked through it as Linda walked into the giant moving van.  She came back into the house.  "You're next Sparkle, sweet girl! You, me, and Jerry are the only ones missing to move to our new place."


She listened to Linda but was now a bit shaken from the bumpy ride in the van.  Linda brought her out of the moving van and into a large building with long, brightly carpeted hallways.  They stepped into the elevator as a friendly neighbor asked, "What floor do you need?"  "Seven, please", Linda answered.  "Well that's a cute doggie you have there. Is she friendly?" the new neighbor asked. "Yes, very!" she answered.

(Picture of the elevator scene with Jerry, Linda, Sparkle, and the neighbor.)

Linda smiled and pet Sparkle to calm her.  Sparkle was still a little nervous but wagged her tail anyway.  She zipped across the new place inspecting each room with her paws barely having time to touch the floor.  They started to unpack their cardboard boxes together.  Jerry looked up at Sparkle from his recliner and asked, "Where do you think my comfortable shoes went?" Sparkle sniffed inside an open box and nearly got her head stuck.  She dragged one brown leather shoe out of the box and all the way across the living room and dropped it at Jerry's feet.  "Good job Sparkle! We'll have everything back where it belongs soon."


"Sparkle, how do you like your new home?" Linda asked.  Sparkle gave a soft, "Arff".  It wasn't so bad.  The neighbors were very nice and had even pet her!  There was the raccoon by the sofa and over by the window was her squeaky ball.  There was a lot of bright sunshine coming through the window.  Sparkle jumped up to it as she squinted and saw a children's playground, beautiful trees, and a walking trail.  Her bone tasted just as delicious as it had earlier that day.  She gnawed it and tossed it on her belly as she rolled from side to side.

(Picture is in contrast to moving day scene with those objects. Sparkle is content.)

Linda and Sparkle both yawned.  They had a long moving day of loading the van, unpacking boxes, and placing many of their items back where they belonged.  Nestled in a blanket, with a giant smile from ear to ear, she curled up and began to drift off at the foot of Linda's bed.

(Picture is two pages together. Sparkle is cozy and has thought bubbles of the day's events.)


Friday, January 17, 2014

This Is Not a Ghost Story

I honestly can't recall my first encounter with paranormal activity or why I am so overly anxious to damage shreds of blogger and writer credibility that I might have garnered with my whopping one post.  The first half of my life thus far, I had witnessed oddities, not apparitions.  As a child, there was one day I stepped outside our house for a trip to the airport and a tiny bird landed on my shoe and started confusingly tugging at the shoelace.  It stayed on my foot even as I lightly moved. My family enjoyed the splendor of it for a few minutes, but flights typically run on schedule, so we had to carefully "shoe" it off. Was I a ghost? No, I was a seven or eight year old girl. Couldn't the robin see me though? Did it not have as much instinct as its peers? At this age, I was thumbing through Dr. Doolittle and talking to the animals enough as it was. I didn't need to take this teen-aged bird to the airport on my shoe. It already had wings. Fly birdie! Fly!

Ghost stories often begin with oddities and with too many coincidences. Who hasn't experienced those? People have inklings, senses, and feelings for things. Regardless of what, politically, we might be persuaded to assume, people are actually quite brilliant. Or, maybe they are not...but that is for you to decide and perhaps the onset of a potential blog entitled "How Stupid Smart People Can Be".

As a teen, my friends used to play games with me of hide and go seek with objects.  I could pick up on their nonverbal cues enough not to have to search, but rather directly pluck the tiny object out from, say, under a bookcase after guessing what room it was in. I wouldn't be able to do this today. Yes, teenagers are magical, or as some describe it self assuredly indestructible.  Back then, it was truly mysterious. Now, it is decidedly nonverbal clues. This gives me more credibility. Also, you can't spend all day playing hide and seek as an adult. It's a shame.

We have to take some of the spookiness away for a moment; it is stifling. Many paranormal or shall we call them unexplainable occurrences are not even scary they are just weird. I don't know why people don't share them openly more often because they frequently share other things that are weird; like pictures of die-hard fans sporting belly paintings and wigs at football games.
Whatever the cause, there seems to be a reason that we don't relish in this unexplained phenomena, at least not in first person. Even as I wrote these paragraphs, I mulled over a few dreams and ghost stories I've had, totally abandoned my computer for a half-day, and got goosebumps while simultaneously promising to myself those stories shall remain unaddressed. Here is where I'll give an honorable mention to dream sequences. They are better left alone, which is true of ghosts themselves if I've learned anything from superstition, U.S. pop culture, and legend.

For now, if we're in the mood for a good ghost story, we will just have to catch up on episodes of Ancient Aliens or an occasional round of Celebrity Ghost Stories, so that we can sit back with a discerning eye and jab all of their characters as soon as they are finished laying it all out on the line.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sending Yourself Some Flowers

Before I began this blog, which consequently was earlier this week, I was thinking what all writers think at some point, yet not all dare to accept.  I should write, but what do I have to offer the literary world?  Where do I begin? Then while at work today a thunderbolt hit my brain and I was plagued with a virtual downpour of story ideas, witticisms, even singular words that are not used nearly enough.  I could not purge them from my mind. It was enough to convince me that like it or not, this is my life.  I am a writer.

I thought about things and people I love: my family, animals, running, coffee, David Sedaris, poet Billy Collins.

I thought about things I hate: negativity, controlling aspects of life that are hard to escape- like not having enough money to fix the toilet and the leaky sink.

I thought about amazing events that have happened: I met Hillary Clinton and got to ask her a political question while she ran for a bid for President.  I've been blessed to teach a handful of classes for reading and writing.

I thought about horrible events that occurred: losing my older brother to a car accident, losing other family members.

Not all of the ideas were gems.  That was the point.  Some stories are worth telling.  As humans, we don't stop eating because some of what we eat is junk.  As a writer, I still need the sustenance that is the nourishment gained from putting words on the page.

I spent most of the rest of the night staring at the wall thinking about this comedy routine I saw with Lewis Black .  He mentioned a conversation he overheard, where the only sentence he caught this one particular girl student say was, "If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college." He never got to hear the end of the story.  Sure, Black was highlighting how moronic this girl sounded in passing.  However, I think there was some truth in that he wanted to hear the rest of the story.  So did I.

In fact, by this time, it had occurred to me that not only do I rather enjoy reading, I rather love writing.  As my mind traveled in a frantic, nearly hyperactive fashion from writing ideas back to the its linear "workplace mode", I discovered a few more equally pressing notions.

Among my original, now seemingly absurd belief that I have no place writing was the sad conclusion that my writing material, my life, was somehow ill-fit and perhaps not interesting enough.  Well, what's your least favorite book you've ever read?  This is better than that.  Pairing up with the sad conclusion above was the unintentional disrespect for the universal human experience.  I like well written books and blogs.  It is art and I can dig it.  Not only am I not the only one experiencing life, I am not the only one experiencing very similar happenings.  This sharing of the human experience becomes a social responsibility.  Tones and moods are uniquely our own, but we are in this moment, this life, together.  Once I diced up the former negativity and changed its consistency to a fine puree, I was set to start writing more prolifically...or was I?

I have met people who are a little on the obsessive end, maybe they wash their hands a lot or have stuffed animals on their beds that no one is allowed to touch.  It strikes you as a little creepy, but you brush it off and think, to each their own.  Well no one has accused me of being superstitious, but with a few real ghost stories under my belt, I figure the lack of accusations were clear assumptions.  I thought maybe if I write the bad experiences that haven't happened (fiction) that they will happen.  Or, if I wrote about the negative life experiences (non fiction) that this could somehow make them worse.  I was feeding myself a tall order of hooey.  I started to think about how Stephen King wrote a book about a writer who writes these terrible things and they begin to happen to people in real life.  That should be a reason not to write, but I also remembered how I had that general idea in middle school before I had ever heard of that book.

The last pressing notion is the more positive thought that I should really send myself some flowers.  You see, I was considering several gifts to give for peoples' birthdays when I stumbled upon that one.  Perhaps this was out of self-pity after examining negative life aspects from King and my superstitious perspective that putting life events to the page could make them worse.  It could also make them better.  The flowers I would send myself would be ornate and with a note attached that reads: "Dearest Katie, I'm sorry that I have at times been hard to deal with and even sometimes have given you the short end of the stick. Love, Your Life".

So, here is my first blog. I think it's safe to say, it doesn't come without, Ahem, a few reservations.