Sunday, March 19, 2017

Diana Smith Poems for Kids

I met Diana Smith  many years ago when I joined and became part of the NC Writer's Network West (Netwest). I liked her poems and stories that were so full of humor. She is in process of writing a book about her grandfather, a professional golfer, a man who influenced her young life. 

I am happy that Diana has created a website with her stories and poems for kids. If you are an adult who loves dogs, you will laugh at the cute and whimsical stories about the many, many dogs she and her husband Joel have rescued over the years. 
She posted photos of some of her rescues and tells their stories in poems.

Diana's stories and poems for children have been published in numerous magazines for kids. 
Click on this link:

Let me know what you think and pass this website on to your grandchildren or to teachers who will find the writing here to be quite useful in class. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dana Wildsmith's new novel


Dana Wildsmith returns to City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, March 25th at 3 p.m. to present her novel, Jumping. Her novel portrays with great skill and finesse the collision of the two worlds of a Georgia school teacher and a small charming Mexican boy. 

I look forward to reading this book that sounds so interesting. 

Click on the link below to learn more.

Poet and novelist, Dana Wildsmith

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Writing Again

Thursday, March 9.
Tonight I read three pages from a memoir I began some years ago. I read them at our critique group, and I am so glad I took them for feedback. I had read only a  few lines before I realized how lacking my story was and how much more I can do to make it good.

I feel motivated to write again after my experience tonight. I have not written anything but blog posts in a  long, long time. Somewhere in the past year, I let everything come ahead of my creative nature. I am ready to come back, to follow my passion again.

The  process of publishing is a long one. Nothing good comes easily. This week I sent a manuscript to an editor. It is a compilation of short prose pieces, non-fiction and one short story. Included in this manuscript is a  collection of stories by my friend Estelle Rice. We decided a few years ago to publish a book about our beloved pets and other animals in our  lives. I think it will be a good read.

In the coming weeks, I will go down to my studio on certain days just to write. Most writers try to write every day, and I usually do some kind  of writing almost every day. But I have not done any serious writing lately. That is what I miss. 

One of my past students told me he is writing several pages on his novel every day. He described the joy he feels when he becomes lost in the story, in his writing and hates to put it aside to go on with the rest of his life. I have felt those moments. I want to feel them again.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Male or Female doctors? Is one gender better than the other?

I have written here before that I  prefer a woman physician to a male doctor. I feel that women  usually take more time and will let me talk and ask questions. Now, I find I am on the right track. Women physicians have a better record of keeping their patients alive. Not only that, their patients aren't readmitted to the  hospital as often. This article on
includes research on this subject:

The researchers estimated that if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as their female colleagues, there would be 32,000 fewer deaths each year among Medicare patients alone — a number comparable to the annual number of motor vehicle accident deaths nationally. The study was published online December 19, 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study included one million Medicare recipients 65 and over. They found that patients treated by a woman physician had a  four percent lower risk of dying prematurely. They had a five percent lower risk of being readmitted to a hospital within 30 days. 

Sadly, female physicians are often not paid as well as men and are often passed over for promotions. Only 1/3 of doctors are female, but women make up half of all US medical school graduates. I wonder what that says about the medical profession and medical schools. 

I would guess that women doctors pay more attention to guidelines and are more particular about details. I assume this because most of the  men I have known leave the details to their wives or secretaries. Could it  be that male doctors, like male CEOs, delegate to their lessor ranking people the important follow up on patients and don't  listen as well as women? 

Recently I met a male doctor who had read an MRI of my lower back. He was in the room with me about five minutes. He never sat down. He told me my MRI looked pretty good. But he thought he could alleviate  my pain with  an epidural, the same kind of injection given to pregnant women when they are in labor. He left the room after telling me I would be called to set up an appointment.  

I left there and drove home with questions piling up in my mind. Later I checked my messages on Patient Portal and found my diagnosis which included words like stenosis and steroid. Neither of those words were used by the doctor when he talked with me. 

Did he think I was ignorant of such medical terms? Did he think I would refuse the injection if he told me more details? Just the opposite is true. I have postponed having such an injection into my spine. Research has shown that this injection is not recognized by the FDA as safe, but it has become the latest trend among spine specialists who make mucho money on these procedures. They are said to be about 50 percent successful and are often repeated over and over with minimum results. The risks of becoming paralyzed or even dying are worth consideration and should be told to the patient. 

Why did this man not tell me there are risks? Why did he not tell me anything except "this is the injection given to pregnant women?" I hardly believe the ingredients in this cocktail are the same as given to a  pregnant woman in labor. 

Once again, I am not that happy with a male physician. One day, hopefully, women will be a bigger part of the medical world and I think the care we receive will be far better than what we have today. 
This is my opinion based on my personal experiences. 
What do you think? Do you prefer male or female, or does it  make any difference to you?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Should I have been a teacher? I reflect on my younger days.

This is  President's Day weekend.When I was in school we celebrated each president's day, George Washington on February 22 and Abraham Lincoln on February 12, but we did not stay home from school. We studied the history of these great men's lives. I wonder if teachers still have their students learn about these presidents who were born in February.

I taught elementary school, fourth grade, but I don't think  I made my history classes very interesting. Looking  back on the young 23 year-old I was then, I wish I could tell her what she could do to make those classes interesting.

My nephew, a history buff, teaches history and he knows how to interest all of his students. I have not attended his classes, but I  hear that he doesn't teach from a text book. He uses other methods to get the high school children so involved they love it. They love him.

Someone once said to me, "I'll bet you were a wonderful teacher."

Perhaps I was a good teacher because I took a personal interest in each child that sat in my classroom. I might  have become too close to  my kids because many of them had family problems they wanted to share with me. One little perfectionist, a  good student, had emotional problems because her father and mother separated. The little girl felt a need to take care of her mother who evidently shared her troubles and fears with her children. The child became almost hysterical when she made a mistake on a test. I let  her come into class early for days so she could talk to me about her concerns. She sat in my lap and cried as she told me how she and  her mom knelt by her bed every night and prayed for her father to come back. 

Another troubled student, a boy who was eleven years old, but big for his age, came into school after the school year began. He sat in back of the class with anger shooting from his eyes. His body language told me  he was trouble. He  never opened a book or picked up a pencil. His arms crossed over his  chest, he glared at me.

It was not difficult to see this boy needed counseling. Not knowing anything about his history   it was clear that he was on the verge of exploding, and I hoped it would not happen in my classroom. I wrote a letter to his parents and asked them to come in to see me. I also suggested he might benefit from therapy. 

Soon after his arrival, we were told we would have Parent's Day. Mothers and fathers could come and sit in the back of the classroom, observe the children, and  me. The idea  of having such a critical audience unnerved me, a green, inexperienced young teacher. 

I was never anxious when I stood before my 32 students each day, but having parents there to observe was a different thing. My timing of the  letter home for the troubled boy could  not have been worse. He arrived the morning of Parent's Day with a thunder cloud face and immediately told me he was not going to see a shrink. 

"You can't make me, either," he said in a voice that said  he was itching for a fight. I had hoped his  parents would not tell him I  suggested he have therapy, but  they must have told him I thought he needed a psychiatrist. 

My day with the  parents had begun on a very bad note. I went to my principal, Mrs. Gotko, a slight little woman who had suffered a  bad car accident the year before and had missed several months of school. 

"I'm afraid he will cause a  bad incident while the parents are here. If he rebels and won't mind me, I don't know what I will do, " I said.

"I'll come down and talk to him," Mrs Gotko said.

I went back to my classroom and soon the principal arrived and motioned for my angry student to come out in the hallway. He slammed a book down on his desk and ambled out the door. I felt such relief just knowing my competent principal was going to  handle my problem. I called the roll and had no sooner reached the Ds than one of my students cried out. "Miss Council, Mrs. Gotko is on the floor!" 

I rushed to  the door and found the older woman struggling to her feet. My student was no where to be seen.

"What happened?"

"He knocked me down. He didn't  hit me, but he pushed me." Breathless and upset, Mrs. Gotko said she was going to call his parents. "You can go back to your classroom now."

Several adults came into the room and took their seats in the back. I managed to get through my classes as though nothing had happened, but when lunch time came and the parents had gone I went straight to the office. 

"He won't be back here. You won't have to deal with him anymore." The principal said  she had called the police who were out looking for him. 

"What will they do with him," I asked. I felt guilty that I had not been able to handle the boy and I never wanted him to  leave school under such horrible circumstances. He was so young and already in trouble with the  police. 

I later learned that he was found by the police that afternoon, and that he was going to be sent to his grandmother's to live. 

I wondered why this boy hated the world. Had he been abused at home? Maybe he had a stepfather or father who was mean to him or a mother who mistreated him. A child would not normally have so much anger inside if he had not faced major problems. I wondered if there had been more time, would I have been able to reach him. 

I never heard anything else about this child, but he is just one of the many I still feel concern for, feel I  somehow failed. Looking back, I think I  have too  much empathy to  be a good school teacher. I should have studied psychology. I wanted to help these kids more than I wanted to teach them to read and write. 

What I should  have done

Looking back, I see what I could have done with my early years that might have been more helpful, places where I  could have made more of a difference, work that would have been more suitable to me. Like my sister, Gay, I think I would have liked counseling. Or maybe I could have taught psychology, a subject I most enjoy. Maybe I should have worked for a non-profit that helps children in distress. I might have been a good counselor or children. 

All throughout our lives we learn, gain wisdom in many ways, and when we are too old to start over, we finally discover what we should have done or been.

Have you ever felt you failed at something or failed someone? 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Personal View on the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

Ellis Hughes's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, text
This blog is about writing your life stories. This is a story my friend Ellis Hughes will not forget. See her in the middle of the photo at the right.

The first protest was planned in Washington, D.C., and is known as the Women's March on Washington. It was organized as a grassroots movement to "send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office and to the world that women's rights are human rights". 

My friend, Ellis Hughes, lives in Asheville, NC now, but grew up in Albany, Georgia as I did. When I heard that she had been to Washington, DC for the Women’s March last week, I asked her to tell me about it.

Ellis said her primary issue was healthcare. “My niece had no health insurance, so no regular healthcare until she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Regular health care would have found that disease much earlier and she might still be alive.”
She said, “The present administration’s proposals and actions are diminishing options for millions.”

Ellis' niece was the daughter of one of my best friends in high school and college

Ellis has been a feminist since she learned that there was such a thing. The opportunity to march nationally was a no-brainer for her.

“I have an Equal Rights Amendment bracelet I wore for years in the 70s … and wore to the Jan. 21 March. I’ve been a member of many women’s groups … from Women in Film to the Women’s Sports Foundation.  Now, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense (although that is not specifically limited to women).  I worked in corporate America for 40 years; the struggle was intense, and is still ongoing in the workplace.”

“I have not heard who actually organized the march in Washington DC. Do you know who it was?” I asked.
“The March started with one Facebook post by a woman in Hawaii, right after the Nov. 8 election.  The actual organizers “on the ground” were several women of varied professional and personal backgrounds,” Ellis said.

She gave me links to articles about who did the work. This one, she said, gives many of the salient facts.
The article on Wikipedia says there were marches even in Antarctica.

Who were the speakers at the march and what were their topics?
The Wikipedia page has that list.  Also, the Women’s March website.  (It is a good source of additional information, too.)

“The crowd was so large that we walked for hours … got close to the stage but were never able to see it.  We did see the Jumbotrons that lined Independence Avenue. I have yet to see all the speeches (they are online).”

Did you meet others who came to protest and what did they say to you about why they were there?
“We talked to several people – many were there to protest the incoming administration’s proposals: anti-woman/individual freedoms, healthcare choices, LGBT, environmental issues such as the Dakota pipeline, education, privatization of public resources, gun safety, and so on.”

How do you think these marches will affect women in the future?
“Judging from the actions of several women I know, they are energized like I’ve never seen before. This past weekend’s marches to protect immigrants are a clear example that this participation is not going away soon.”

Would you attend another march and do you expect there to be more in the near future?  
“Yes and yes. I’m keeping my pussyhat at the ready.”

Thanks to Ellis Hughes for taking time for this interview.

Have you had a big moment in your life that stays with you? Write about how you felt that day, what the weather was like, describe the people around you, the tone of the crowd.What did  you wear? Who was there, men, women and children?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

More Bad News This Week When Mary Tyler Moore Died

With so much bad news this past week, we felt a double whammy when our beloved Mary Tyler  Moore died.

“She only wanted to play a great character, and she did so. That character also happened to be single, female, over 30, professional, independent, and not particularly obsessed with getting married. Mary had America facing such issues as equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence way back in the ’70s.”

I often feel sad when celebrities I have enjoyed and admired over the years pass away, but I actually cried when I saw some of the tributes to Mary. Many of us lived our own lives through the lovely character on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. My generation of women had little to no encouragement for doing anything other than being a housewife or, if we furthered our education and worked until we married, we could become teachers, nurses, or secretaries.

I chose teaching but I was not really cut out to teach children. I took their problems home with me, worried and upset my husband with my worries. Barry begged me to quit my job. I wanted to fix the sad home lives of some of my students, miraculously find a way to bring home their fathers or heal that hurt they had buried deeply inside. I left public school to co-teach and direct a private kindergarten. The  part I liked best was the business end of that job.

On Mary’s show, she became executive producer. She seemed to be a little surprised as well as quite proud of herself. I was proud of her and admired her clever way of dealing with the men who could not quite get their heads around her goals and decisions. Young women like I was at the time saw her as a role model. Successful women like Oprah and Katie Kuric and others give Mary Tyler Moore credit for the lives they lead today.

Tonight I watched several of the tributes to her and noticed that women, men and young people participated in singing that well-known theme song and by tossing their hats in the air. I miss the clean shows with messages for viewers, the comedic talent of actresses and actors who could make us laugh but also put a lump in our throat or a tear in our eye.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Strong Women, Resilient Women speak up

I am happy to see Rosemary Royston writing on her blog and on Facebook about women in our culture who have made a difference, many of them with little recognition for their efforts and accomplishments.

Maya Angelou said, "You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.

This quote by Maya Angelou speaks to me, because history proves that if you feel you are not being treated equally to others and that you should be, then you must speak out. Being angry and bitter and calling names on Facebook does no one any good. But making those who represent you in office know how you feel will register with someone, especially when you vote.

I am a huge advocate for women because young women my age were expected to go to college simply to find a man who would take care of them. I know from growing up in a family dominated by males, where the females had no voice. I know from working in what was considered a "man's job" for awhile, and I know from seeing fabulous women struggle to get the respect and honor they deserve.  

Vote it! I like that
So many women didn't vote in the last national election. Many who voted followed the lead of the men they knew. One told me she had never paid any attention to politics. She voted, but now, after the election, she is wondering why some people are so upset. Too many women vote according to what someone tells them instead of reading and learning all they can about those who are up for election.  

I also hear women say they voted for someone because of one single issue. Many times that one single issue is not even addressed once the man is in office. We must know the candidate as well as we possibly can, no matter the party, no matter what he says during the campaign. We have learned that candidates will say anything, it seems, to get elected. And they are forgiven for lying to the people who support them and believe them.

I am reading a most interesting book by Gail Collins, When Everything Changed, the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to  the present. I  bought this book at City Lights Books in Sylva, NC. It was published in 2009.

During the sixties, seventies, and on, bright women, who became scientists and went into research, discovered important facts and truths that hardly made a ripple in the vast ocean of scientific public knowledge. In the article below, you  can see their stories.

Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote. 

My mother was fifteen years old when women were granted the right to vote.That was not too long ago. 

It might be difficult for young women today to believe that until 1920 women were denied the right to vote on who would make the laws and rules under which they lived. Women were denied many things and it didn't end with the 19th amendment.

1960 was the  fortieth anniversary of women having the constitutional right to vote.
I was a college student at that time and I had no idea what women could do in this country or what women had accomplished. I thought my only choices were teaching school, becoming a nurse or a secretary. Or, I could meet a man who would be successful and provide me with a nice home where I could cook him fine meals, raise well-behaved children, look as lovely as I could when he came home each evening and try to please him in every way possible. Some of the young women I knew did that and some were happy. Those women are the ones who are celebrating 60 year marriages today. I applaud them, mostly for having husbands who lived a long time. I didn't.

Some of the women who left college to get married ended up in divorce when it was too late to find that doctor who would take care of them forever. Often they had to work at menial jobs because they didn't get an education that would prepare them to earn a living. Many women stayed in unhappy marriages because they knew they could not afford to take care of their children without the husband's salary.

Leaders of the movements for women recognized in 1960, after forty years, there were only two women who had ever been appointed to cabinet-level positions in our government and one woman who was on a lower court as a judge.

Two-thirds of women in 1960 did not approve of a woman as  president.
I am afraid we still have that mentality today. When newspapers in 1960 wrote about the active women who met to discuss the political issues and work for the campaigns, they led with paragraphs about the table d├ęcor and what dishes were served. Headlines were "GOP Women Facing a Calorie Packed Week." Patronizing women kept them "in their place" and sadly a number of females did not recognize it. If you pay attention you will see that manipulation taking place at dinner parties and cocktail parties today, and probably even more in business offices. Most older men might not even realize they do it because it was such a part of our culture.

Today when we have  women on the Supreme Court, mainly due to a few presidents like Jimmy Carter, we realize the difference made by the women's movement of the seventies.

Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, women were not able to apply for credit cards. I remember my sister telling me she had been turned down when she tried to use her husband's credit card. I had my own credit card, and I insisted she go out and get a credit card in her own name. Young women today could not imagine not having their own credit cards.

I was disappointed when the one woman running for our local board of  County Commissioners was defeated. This woman has done more and worked harder for our county than the men who were running. She had two strikes against her. She was running as a Democrat, and she was a woman. In our very conservative county no woman has ever served on the Commision. 

I  hope there are studies in high school or college where young students can learn about the determined women who helped us get where we are today. I firmly believe that more women in our government, local, state and federal, would make for a better country for all of us. But those women have to be strong, relentless, and courageous to fight the harassment and determined efforts of the men in power. I heard Megan Kelley speak about what her life at FOX Broadcasting was like and how she had to fight off the advances of her boss while trying to keep her job. She knew if she made public what happened when she was in his office, she would not only lose her  job, but would be blackballed and never again work for anyone in broadcast journalism. 

But, sadly, with the present administration, I am afraid women's rights will be set back decades. Some of today's young women seem to accept the status quo and believe that women are doing well, but they don't understand that they have to be staunch supporters of the rights of women. I have noticed that those rights won through years of struggle are being eroded in subtle ways. Pharmacists refusing to sell birth control pills, for example. We must pay attention.

The Women's March today was unbelieveable. I look forward to learning and hearing more about the speeches and the messages brought forth throughout the nation. From the size of the crowds there is far more fear and concern for our future than I thought.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Wanna Be Minimalist

As I think about what makes us live longer, more content lives, I remember my father sitting at the table in the mornings drinking from his large coffee mug as he “studied” on his day and week ahead. He always had plans for tomorrow. He lived to be 87 years old.

I find myself doing the same thing. When I get down and have health issues, I get depressed. But as soon as I feel a little better, I get out my legal pad and begin to make a list. I write down my plans for the coming week. Each day is a clean slate with space for me to take to use as I want. 

My new calendar for 2017 excites me as I think about how I will fill each day. This year will be a bit different from last year. I am intentionally leaving more spaces open on my Writers Circle calendar. I am setting forth on a journey that will be quite different.

I have started already. Every day I take a few minutes to go through a drawer or a cabinet or a shelf in the storage room and pack up things I no longer need or use. I don’t spend a whole day on this, but just a half hour of getting rid of socks, or half empty bottles in my bathroom, or clothes from my closet lifts my spirits. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

I realize that part of the reason I feel so much better when I go away from home is that all the flat services in my house are covered with something. Magazines, newspapers, books, boxes, mail and more collect on tables and chair seats, on counters and desks. 

Getting rid of paper is my first priority. As a writer, I can’t seem to get away from paper. I have piles of poems and stories that I haven’t had time to go through and revise. I have files of notes for my classes and they need organizing. Why is it so hard to throw them away when I have most of them filed on my computer? Maybe it is my fear of computers and their failings that show up when I most need them to be reliable. Save them in the Cloud, I’m told, but I don’t trust the Cloud or maybe I don’t trust my ability to gather them back when I need them.

I can never be a minimalist, I am afraid, but I can certainly do without much of what is in my house and my garage. When I look around at my studio and all the tables covered with boxes and bags, etc. from my storage room, I could become overwhelmed, but I am going to work on it in small pieces. One box a day or one end of the table tomorrow.

No Traveling 
To do this I will have to spend most of my time at home this winter. No trip to Florida as I had planned. Not unless I get more done that I think I can.

When I mentioned this on Facebook, someone said I should blog about it. So I decided to write and share my intentions with my readers.

It seems most of us want to declutter our lives. I am watching some videos on You Tube about minimalism and they motivate me to do better. I am disgusted at what we all buy and waste in this country. The plastic junk made in China fills our land fields. We buy another tee shirt when we have fifteen in drawers in our homes. We fill up all our spaces until we have to move to a larger house to hold all the toys the kids have. I heard that some people rent storage units because they have used all the space in their houses and garages. 

I am not going to be part of that community anymore. It will be difficult for me, I admit. I often feel the need for Retail Therapy. Just buying a new lipstick or hand cream gives me a lift. But when I do buy another lipstick, I will consciously throw away an old one. I will feel so good when I do.
What about you? Do you find yourself over run with too much stuff? If you have conquered this problem, please tell us how you did it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Beginning the New Year

Christmas is  over and I am back at work. For the past two days, I have begun working  on scheduling for next year, 2017.

As one of the two Clay County Representatives for NCWN-West, I facilitate Coffee with the Poets and Writers each month at the Moss Memorial Library. All county reps hold one free event open to  the public each month. Janice Moore, the  other Clay County Rep, is in charge of the Poetry Critique group. 

I have also begun inviting writers and  poets to teach at Writers Circle around the Table, my home studio in Hayesville, NC. This will be our seventh year of  inviting writers  into my home to  study with the finest literary artists in the region. This year we have Karen Holmes, poet, scheduled to teach in July. Tara Lynne Groth, a smart and astute young woman who earns  her living writing and teaching, will be with us  in August. She knows about platforms and branding, using social media to promote yourself as a writer and how to build a following. Her classes are always filled to the max.

Mark Saturday, May 6, on your calendar now. NCWN West and the Jackson County Public Library will sponsor A Day for Writers in Sylva, NC at the library. 

For several months I have been working with other members of NCWN-West to  find presenters for A Day for Writers, the one day writers conference to be held at the Library in Sylva, NC on Saturday, May 6, 2017. I am very  pleased we will have the popular author, Terry Kay, an award-winning writer of seventeen novels. If you haven't read his books, you might have seen movies made from them. Most people remember To Dance with the White Dog, but two more were made into movies.

We are also fortunate to have poet, Kathryn Stripling Byer, past Poet Laureate of NC on our program. She will teach a two hour workshop.

Although November was not so good for me, I look forward to the coming months. Being with my family the last couple of weeks was relaxing and fun. We saw the touching and beautiful movie, Collateral Beauty. Although some of the young critics panned it, it proves that, once again, my tastes and theirs are far from the same. Anyone who has lost a child or someone so dear the grief overwhelms them, will appreciate what the main character is going through. Unless one has experienced such loss, it might be hard to understand the actions of the characters. I feel I learned some life lessons in this film. Kudos to the writers and the actors of Collateral Beauty.

December with my family in Georgia washed away those blues that have been hanging over me. I was certainly fed well and will have to get serious about watching my diet in the coming weeks. Although the weather was mild, we are now experiencing winter here in the mountains of North Carolina. I had to put Lexie's sweater on her when we went out today.

It is New Year's Eve now in the United States, and tomorrow I will eat the typical meal that will bring me luck and good fortune. Black eyed peas, greens, and pork of some kind. That was always what my mother made for New Year's Day.

Are you having winter where you live?
Have you seen a good movie the critics don't like?
Do you have a special meal on New Year's Day?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Present and Christmas Past

Here I  am on Christmas Eve, 2016, snuggled in bed listening to Christmas Carols and other Christmas music. 
Lexie is sleeping, curled into my knees. She was in her crate most of this day but when she was set free, she did manage to slip out the front door and run away for a short while. 

Gay and Stu, sister and BIL, went to church  tonight. They sing in the choir at the Presbyterian Church in Alpharetta, GA. I always like to  hear them sing. Barry's Memorial Service for our families was held at that church in 2009, and several members of  the choir sang the most  beautiful music. Ollie, the pastor there is a gifted man. I'll always be appreciative of the service he presented for us in memory of my dear husband. 

Barry Beall on his horse in Georgia

Like many of us, Barry loved Christmas. He enjoyed having people come to our house in Albany where we lived twenty-five years. He and I cut our own tree from one of the  many Christmas Tree farms in southwest Georgia until the Morings and Bealls joined in partnership to grow our own trees on the family farm. When our trees were tall enough, we spent most of  our weekends in December selling them to the  public. 

Our farm was called Santa's Forest. Gay drew a delightful Santa and painted him on wood for our large sign that we  put up a few weeks before Christmas each year. The selling  of the trees, meeting the families that came out together to purchase that all-important-part of Christmas, brought happiness to us, and all four of us enjoyed that part of having the farm.

The hot, buggy summers were not fun. Spraying the trees for insects, pruning them twice each summer, and greening them before harvest, was hard work. My sweet sister, whose idea it was to become Christmas Tree growers, felt such a responsibility that she did all of the labor. I was not much help with my allergies. Barry and Stu worked all week, so Gay climbed up on our little orange Kabota tractor and spent many, many days working to bring in a harvest we could sell. Our father was obviously proud of her, and I think that was because he felt he had finally found one of his children who enjoyed farming like he did. 

Gay and I are heeling in the little pines until time to plant them in the field. I am in front in the red hat. It was a cold February. 

Having a business built around Christmas put a dent in our time to decorate our houses, buy and wrap presents and entertain our friends. When Gay realized that she was the only one of the four who really wanted to grow Christmas Trees, she sold the business to our nephew. 

Like my father, I was very proud of her. She had so much determination and self-discipline. She would call me and say she was coming  out to work on the farm and I felt my heart sink. I could not bear going out into the ninety-degree weather which sapped my energy. An hour working outside left me limp as a dishrag. I felt like a wimp, a traitor to my sister, but I was just no good as a farmer. The chemicals in the spray made me sick, and I worried about Gay breathing in those toxins. I was extremely happy when the tree farm was sold. I was glad Gay had been successful with her business even though her partners did  not hold up their end of the agreement. 

A real Christmas Tree was always important to us.
Barry never minded struggling with a tall tree, forcing it into a stand and helping me with the lights. Stu is the same. He strings the lights for their tree and Gay prunes any branches that need to be cut to enhance the cone shape expected. She knows how to make a Charlie Brown tree look like a Fraser Fir.

I have  not  had a real tree in my  house since Barry died. I bought some small artificial trees over the years, but  it was not until this year that I found one I  like. It came with the LED lights already strung and all I had to do was stick the two parts together and plug it  in. Not so  much fun, but it gives a nice Christmas touch with the lights Gay and I strung on the windows behind it.

Gay and Stu still buy the real tree, wrestle it into the stand, and Gay still prunes away anything that doesn't look like a Christmas Tree. The three of us open gifts on Christmas morning. We miss Barry. I feel an emptiness that will never be filled, but we enjoy our Christmas morning. Stu makes a great Santa Claus as he gives out the gifts, even some for our canine family members. 

The years pass quickly, and before we know it, it will be December 2017. 

When we were young, it seemed we had plenty of time. Now I reflect on Christmases past and wish I could go back to visit some  of those times. I'd like to do a few things differently.

I wish I had made a big effort to include Barry's mother in our holidays after she was too old to drive down to visit us. She spent many Christmases alone. 

I wish I could see my mother in her kitchen making fruit cake and eggnog, having a little drink of the whiskey with Stan, her son-in-law, before pouring it into her recipe. Her house smelled like Christmas to me, and I miss that smell. I miss her.

I wish I could tell my father how much I appreciated his picking up pecans all during the fall, having them cracked and picking the fruit from the shells by  hand. He  put in hours and hours of time to give each of his seven children bags of shelled nuts for Christmas. I don't think I ever really thanked him for his thoughtfulness and hard work.

We can't go back, but we have great memories that will be with us, in our hearts, as long as we live. We can make new memories, and we can share our memories with others, in our writing, in our family stories, our journals, and our stories will become their stories one day. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers in the United States and in other countries in this wonderful world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Excellence is not an act, but a habit

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
- Aristotle -

Aristotle is saying we must make a habit of good behavior in order to be virtuous and have excellence. This makes me think of some who have spoken often on Facebook, other social media and in opinion pieces in our local newspaper. Words used in inflammatory messages become a habit if done often enough. 

We hear people say we want peace, we want love and gratitude to reign. But often those people are the ones who post mean-spirited graphics, or write hateful letters to editors calling them names and telling them to go back to where they came from.

I recently subscribed to the Graham Star because I have two friends whose articles appear there. The first time I read it, I was surprised at how viciously local people verbally attacked a man who represented his homeowners association at the county commission meeting.

He was told to go back where he came from although he has lived in the area for many years. The editor of the newspaper wrote a fine article defending the man and defending many people who had moved to Graham County and provided jobs and done other good works for the long- time residents. I commend you, Gary Corsair.

The shoe is also worn on the other foot sometimes when people move to this area and claim the people who live here are different, strange or dumb. Of course that is not true. Even in our little town we have highly educated women and men, but they don't wear their educations on their sleeves. You would never know who has a PhD and who became successful running his father's business. Newcomers say they miss having a Barnes and Noble or complain there is nothing to do here in the mountains. Locals have always found plenty to do here with church, school, music concerts almost weekly and our fine local stage performances. 

When I think about the division in our country, I realize that it festers within our towns, cities and in the rural areas. Sometimes it is due to  fear of those who are not just like us. We assume that if someone comes from far away, they  can't want and enjoy the same things we do.

If we act the way we want others to act toward us, maybe we can make a habit of being fair and we can learn the art of being honorable. If we talk about others in a way that is kind, especially in front of children, we can make that manner of speaking a habit and we won't have to even think about it. The children might make the same habit.

 In families where parents fear those who are different from them, that fear is  passed on to their children. Fear brings out anger and prejudice toward others. I hear my southern friends talk about people from up north like they are from Mars. We don't have that many differences.

Mannerisms and accents set us apart, but I have lots of good friends who did  not grow up in the south. We can have fun discussing our backgrounds and the ways we are similar as well as how we are different. But deep down my friends who came from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, New York and other states have the same values as the good, decent people I know who grew up in Georgia and North and South Carolina.

As I try to  understand the anger and violence in our country, the road rage, the fear of people who don't look like us and hate for authority, I ponder on how we, the people, can change those things. Maybe if we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we feel are not up to our standards or our expectations?

When someone speaks from fear and anger, maybe we could discipline ourselves to refrain from reacting the same way. Why is that person afraid and why is he angry? I am not sure some folks even know why or to whom that anger should be directed.

In a road rage killing of a young child this week, perhaps the angry man would not have gotten out of his car and shot into the woman's car if she had not responded when he honked his horn. She thought he was angry because of her slow driving. If she had not honked her horn. If she had just driven on and not responded, maybe he would not have exploded and shot at her car.

Practice mature and thoughtful behavior long enough it will become as natural as breathing. Neither of those people acted like mature adults. He was angry at her driving habits, and she reacted, not  like a mature adult, but like a kid when she honked her horn back at him. The child paid the price.

We are what we repeatedly do. If we continually strive for excellence in our lives, it will become our way of  life.

This could be a New Year's Resolution for those who make them.