Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kissing A Frog

You can't ever tell what you'll get when you kiss a frog. You might just get warts. Frogs can be deceiving. The most beautiful frog could turn out to be a serial killer. The ugliest frog could be a man or woman of loving compassion. Choosing a frog based on appearance is an iffy proposition.

A lot of men and women develop online 'relationships' based solely on the personality their friend displays for them...with no idea whether there is truth or falsity behind the image. They're kissing the frog without having a clue whether they'll get a prince or the court jester or even the hangman.

I worry about folks who share all sorts of intimate details with their online friends. I'm not even talking about things like identity theft or online scams. What about predators that use their online disguise to stalk their victims? How easy does the average person make it for a predator?

What about you? Are you kissing the wrong frogs?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Threads

This morning I saw a weather forecast from Farmer's Almanac for the coming winter. It's grim. Back in the days when the Farmer's Almanac was the Weather Channel of its day, such a forecast was a warning to immediately make preparations for bad weather. For the women, that meant extra canning and stocking up on food supplies. For the men, it meant chopping wood, repairing the family buildings and possessions, even possibly stocking extra food for their animals. And of course, the women prepared their families with warm clothing.

With the advent of sock knitting machines--and the easy availability of socks--home sock knitting faded away. In recent years, there's been an increased interest in sock knitting. Those of you who follow my blog know the hunk and I have started knitting socks. I'm sure many of you are scratching your heads and asking, "Why?" As my son commented, "Just go to Wal-Mart..."

But there are lessons to be learned (aside from the actual knitting) when you sit down to knit a sock. As many of you know, I write romances and I started knitting socks as something of a research project because one of my heroes was a sock knitter. I wanted to be accurate when I mentioned any actions on his part that referred to knitting socks. Right off the bat, I discovered my hero was possessed of great wells of patience. Otherwise, he would have thrown the needles and yarn across the room (exactly as the hunk did this last weekend).

Then there's the necessity for concentration. Distraction will result in unraveling huge hunks of sock because you've skipped a step or knitted when you should have purled or did some other boneheaded thing. A couple weeks back I posted a pic of my sock when I did exactly that. Time was lost while I picked out my mistake.

And of course, the most important thing is the ability to FINISH. There are a lot of things we attempt in life that somehow never get finished. We grow bored. We surrender to fatigue. We lose interest. In the end, we cast the project to the side and move on to something else. When knitting socks, there are numerous points that tempt us to quit. But if we do...we don't have socks to warm our feet.

Imagine those days gone by when the entire family depended on one or two people to knit enough socks to warm their feet through winter. What if they'd quit? Given up? Especially for the pioneers, it wasn't a matter of running down to the store to buy a pair. Most folks did without unless they could afford to buy a pair from someone in their village. Even then, it was an expensive proposition.

Socks do more than warm the feet. They protect the feet from sweaty shoes. And keep the feet clean. Guard them from bacteria. Provide a cushion against blisters. Yeah. Socks are more important than we think...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Love and Weddings

The hunk and I went to a wedding yesterday. My best friend, Jane married the love of her life, Charlie. It was the most joyful wedding I've ever attended. There was laughter and (a few) tears, hugs, kisses and more laughter. Every person attending was delighted for the happy couple.

I think it was because both the bride and groom have been through the fire...and FINALLY, I say FINALLY they are embarking on a new life together. They're perfect for each other. I wish for them great happiness, joy, and most of all never-ending love.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How To?

I'm reasonably intelligent and unlike most of the males in our species, I'm not averse to reading directions, maps, recipes, patterns or diagrams. If I want to learn something, I search for the appropriate information and I go for it. The first attempt might not be a success, but I'll stick with it until I've mastered it.

As long as the directions are complete!

After struggling with recipes, patterns, and directions in the past two or three weeks, I've reached the inescapable conclusion there should be a college course on process writing. You know...step one, step two, etc.

Writing directions requires an elementary talent--breaking down the process to the most basic steps. Most of the directions I've encountered in the last year or so skip some of the most important steps and then render the remaining steps in pure gobbledygook.

It's worse when the pattern/directions have strange exotic terms or acronyms that only apply to the job at hand. Such terms should be explained the first time you encounter them. I don't care if the term was explained back on page 16. Why must I go looking for it? For instance, WYB. Why not simply say WYB (With Yarn in Back) and go on about the business?

Now, I confess my brain does not process strings of random letters very well. A minor stroke will do that to you. But once I firmly attach a meaning to the random string, I do just fine. I recognize it for what it is and go on.

However, when steps are left entirely out, that's a different story. What am I supposed to do with part A? Where exactly is tab H supposed to be inserted?

The trouble is this--experts who write directions forget what it was like when they weren't experts. Teaching is much the same. A brilliant mathematician might have trouble teaching beginners because he doesn't mentally walk through the steps anymore. He doesn't need to. But his students end up lost because they aren't ready to make intuitive leaps.

At my last three jobs, I wrote process books for all the numerous tasks I was responsible for. After all, even I liked to take the occasional vacation or sick day. The process books were so complete, even a new employee could carry out the tasks--if they followed the steps as outlined.

We're not all ready to make intuitive leaps, hoping for the best, when we begin a new project. There's no such thing as too much information when you're reading directions. Explain everything. Really.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dancing in the Streets

Riots come...and riots go. Generally, whatever the flashpoint, the real reason for the riots is not even remotely connected to the street wars. I lived through the sixties in Chicago. Rioters burned down much of the city. Looters stole and robbed. I remember being evacuated from my workplace in armored buses. And the violence continued.

Rioting isn't about some single injustice perpetrated by the overlords. Rioting is about anger--long term, systemic anger and resentment. Whatever the primary root cause, the result is a slowly smoldering anger that only requires an opportunistic flashpoint to flare into a roaring bonfire.

The sad thing is nothing is accomplished by rioting except loss of life and destruction. Nothing positive comes from fighting in the streets. It's exactly like a child misbehaving to get attention. The result is never what he's looking for. And the cycle continues.

As I look back at all the riots I've witnessed over the years, I see no positive outcomes. None. Dialogue is not possible when opposite sides are dodging bullets and missiles. Flames just feed on the anger. And innocent bystanders frequently find their lives in ruins through the destruction of their property. Don't tell me looting and rioting is because some young man was shot.

Looting and rioting is carried out by angry people. Anger and despair are the reasons those folks are out there throwing Molotov cocktails. The law-abiding folks are at home. Or praying in church. Or grieving their dead.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Promises

 Fifty-three years ago today, my dad and stepmother married. As you can see from the picture above, she was taking on quite a job. My brothers and I were a handful in the best of circumstances...on the good days. On the bad days? Yeah, any parent has been there for the bad days. She must have wondered what she'd gotten herself into.

They're both in their eighties now. All those hopeful kids in the photo are senior citizens with families of their own. And all of us learned something about promises and sticking it out, through thick and thin, from that young hopeful bride and groom.

When I married, the idea of divorce never crossed my mind. It wasn't an option. Oh, I know there are valid reasons for divorce. I believe there are times when there's no other choice. But back then--back when I stood next to my new stepmother in a grape-colored dress (boy, I LOVED that dress!), divorce wasn't in my universe.

Marriage was about promises. And promises only count if they're kept.

It's sad that promises don't seem to be as important today. Long-married couples are more of a rarity. Couples think they've been married forever when they reach the five year mark. Heh. Some days five minutes can seem like forever.

But fifty-three years is quite an accomplishment. They weren't young kids just out of high school when they married. I look at them now and they look soooo young and yet, I know they both had already faced grief and pain. In spite of that, they retained enough hope to face the future. Maybe that's the vital ingredient. Hope.

In any case, I wish them blessings and happiness for all their remaining years. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What Can I Do?

I have several friends and family members who are dealing with chronic illness, emotional distress, family issues, cancer or other serious illnesses. I speak to them on the telephone, in person (not very often because they live far away) or via various electronic means. The problems they are coping with grieve me on multiple levels, but one particular one is this: How can I help from a long distance?

It's difficult to know what I can do, other than provide a listening ear. Flowers aren't always appropriate. It seems that a card isn't enough. Telephone calls are not always convenient when the individual is trying to rest. I live too far away to cook meals or clean their homes or drive them to the doctor.

So...this is what I want to know. What can a concerned friend or relative do from long distance? How can we help bolster and support our loved ones who are struggling with terrible illnesses or stumbling through heartbreaking family problems?

I found one article--just today--about things NOT to say to folks dealing with cancer. I found it helpful on some general levels, but most of the suggestions were for friends and family that live near by. Cancer

Just tell me--what can I do? Tell me and I'll do it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Skills

We have company at our house this week--our son and our granddaughters. While we have the chaos and jumbled schedule always attendant when there's company in the house, the hunk decided he would learn how to knit socks. Yes, there wasn't enough going on so he cast on his forty stitches and was off and running. With numerous false starts, he finished his first sock last night.

The son and grandkids were observing the process with keen interest and humor. Especially when the hunk was less than patient with the mistakes and inevitable errors. Last night as he reached the final stages (the toe), our son just shook his head and asked, "Why? Why not just go to Walmart and buy a whole package of socks for the cost of that one pair?"

The answer is...complicated.

On one level, there's the accomplishment of learning a new skill. And the pride in completing a project, start to finish. Even the joy of knowing someone will wear what you've created.

But there's something else to consider. Old, basic skills are dying out. In the past, every single individual could claim a host of basic skills--carpentry, embroidery, cooking, baking, knitting, sewing, plumbing, hunting, animal husbandry, woodworking. Now, anyone who can do ANYTHING is considered an artisan. Fewer and fewer skills are passed down. Folks take less and less time to learn them.

In our own fumbling way, we're passing on (if not the actual skills) at least the IDEA that learning never stops. You're never to old to learn a new skill. You're never to old to enjoy jogging off in a new direction.

Oh, yeah. The hunk started his second sock first thing this morning...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Opinions


Read an article about a woman who posted a pic of one of her kids in a playpen. Apparently, she was inundated by nasty comments from folks who objected to playpens. This is just the last in a long, long list of such incidents. This is what I think:

We should all turn off the 'comments' section of our blogs, etc. It's true that everyone is entitled to an opinion. And quite a few folks have opinions about stuff. It doesn't necessarily follow that they should share their opinions with other folks.

When did that start, anyway?

What if the only way an individual could share his opinion was to write a separate status/blog/article? Think about how many negative feedbacks would never be posted. Most folks are too busy or too lazy to actually write a detailed rebuttal. Imagine all the negativity that would be eliminated.

When it gets down to it, most people really aren't looking for a dialogue. They just want to state their opinion, maybe share information, or provoke the thought process. And most comments (If there are any) don't add much to the initial post. All too often, they say things like LOL or I agree or Me, too! In fact, we would probably be better served with a Like or Dislike button and move on with life. For those who really can't make up their minds, we could add an Ambivalent button. That would cover all the bases and maintain civility at the same time.

Imagine how difficult it would be to generate a mass reaction to political or social issues if every single person of like mind had to write their own rebuttal post. No more riding on the coattails of the original poster. What if they had to compose a coherent reply with supporting facts or evidence?

I blame Twitter with it's 140 character limit. And texting. We've gone from a society that was relatively educated to a culture of acronyms and incomprehensive text speak. We have uncivil opinions that are written in incoherent, badly spelled, ungrammatical prose. Insult on top of insult.

I believe there would be far fewer opinions shared if all of them had to be done via e-mail and personal messaging. And a lot less negativity would taint our lives... 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mondays, Company and Downsizing

First off the bat...the Send in the Clowns socks, redone and finished. Overall, despite having to unravel and reknit a big section on the second one, they came out great! Onward...to another pair for the hunk. He'll have to pick his colors, but he seems to really like his first pair. He's a difficult person to find something to make with knitting or crocheting so I'm pleased he likes the socks.

Mondays. I'm not usually that excited about new weeks. They tend to blur from one week to the next when you're retired. However, this week we're getting ready for our granddaughters and my son to come for a visit, so that will perk things up some. Also I have an exciting visit to see my specialist to find out if I have to have an endoscopy. What more could I want to look forward to?

Company is a rare event at our house. We live a long ways from all our family so we tend to arrange things for our comfort instead of guests. Fortunately, we have plenty of warning this time so everything will be ready when they arrive--unlike when my parents used to call an hour before arrival and tell me to open an extra can of veggies for supper. And yes, they did that fairly often. We used to have a joke in the family: If you couldn't locate my parents, prepare for their imminent arrival. They've reached the age that prevents them from long range travel now...I think.

We're still downsizing. I'm thinking this visit will be a golden opportunity to give a few more things away. Without excessive postage or shipping. I've already started filling a box. *Rubs hands with glee...* What more can I pass along?

So, I'm off and running. It's going to be a busy week!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Multitasking


See that 'sock' at the top? And that funny line of stitches on the left that seem to be zipping off on their own? Well, it's supposed to look like the other side (bottom photo) where the triangly bit is next to the solid red stitches. Which means...??? you ask. All the multicolored stitches have to come out and I'll redo it.

This just goes to show you can't always watch Midsomer Murder and knit at the same time...


Friday, July 25, 2014

Old Friends


While working on book three of my Tuatha series, I discovered a couple details from a previous book were never written down in my series bible. Strange...I could have sworn I did so, but there you are. So I hauled out my lone print copy of the book, Shadows on Stone and started reading.

Twelve chapters later, I realized I had long ago discovered the details I needed. Yes, I found them back on page 52, but I was so caught up in the story I just continued to read. And this was a good thing. Too often, authors get in a slump. They go through a stage where they are convinced they are crappy, no talent hacks with no creativity or imagination. It's difficult to write when you don't believe in yourself.

This is when I find the best thing for me to do is return to my 'old' friends...those first stories I wrote in the fresh flush of enthusiasm and spirit. Those were the ones I truly loved and dreamed and carried around in my heart and soul. I'm often amazed when I return to my previous books. Did I really write that scene? Where did that snappy dialogue come from? How did that particular idea come to me?

Some writers declare they don't read their early work because it makes them cringe when they notice the errors they made. Why? Do we cringe when we remember that first batch of cookies we made or that first fledgling attempt at dancing? All skills in life require a learning curve. I look back on my early books as a fairly successful learning curve. After all, my first book--my FIRST book was offered a contract.

The thing about stories is they aren't going to appeal to everyone. That's life. We writers sometimes forget that crucial truth. When we read a bad review or go through a sales slump, we automatically assume it's because we're a failure. Nah. Some truly horrible books are selling like hotcakes. Some lyrical authors never find their audience. In the end, the only reader that counts is the author that wrote the book.

If we don't find our own books fascinating and thrilling, if the love scenes in our books don't excite us, if we don't care about our heroes and heroines, why should we expect anyone else to do so? In my early career, I did quite a few online interviews and one question I was asked over and over was 'Who is your favorite character from your books?' How in the world could I answer that? If I'm true to myself, then all of my characters are my favorites.

Occasionally, a new reader will ask me what book I recommend. I rarely recommend a specific book. How would I do that without knowing that reader's taste? I can offer to send them an excerpt so they can have a sample of my writing, but really, the only way they can choose is either by series order or by reading the blurb.

What one reader might love, another might just find to be blah. The only reader who should truly, absolutely, positively love my book is me. If I don't love it, all the others don't matter.