Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gone Fishin'

 Clarkie comes from a techie household, so it's not surprising that his early years began with a little virtual fishing.  Are you feeling sorry for the poor, hungry little guy?  Relax.  That pic was taken several years ago.  Today he weighs in at 20 pounds.  Probably more, but he's too embarassed to reveal the exact number. LOL.


Check out more great animal pics at Camera Critters

Barely Conscious

Today I'm having a little fun with free associations. The association prompts were provided by Unconscious Mutterings. My answer follows the "::" marks.

  1. Harm :: hath charm.
    No? Tell me you've never been attracted to a bad boy. Grandma knows better.

  2. If :: only.
    If only I had a nickel for each time I've heard that phrase.

  3. On my own :: without my phone
    Enough said.

  4. She said :: "Want some chocolate?"
    Now that you mention it, yes I do.

  5. Illegal :: immoral or fattening.
    Remember that one? The quote is attributed to W.C. Fields and begins "Everything I do is either "

  6. Broke :: "busted, disgusted, agents can't be trusted"
    from Creeque Alley by The Mamas & The Papas.
    Too young to remember? Check it out Creeque Alley

  7. It’s a :: Kellermangapuss.
    I have no idea where that came from or what it is. But that's what first came to me. Must be some kind of cat. Perhaps one who kills mangoes?

  8. Chatting :: Refer to "On my own"

  9. Cottege :: Cheese.
    Hmm, must be a very strong association. I can't stand that stuff. Don't like Cottage Cheese either. LOL

  10. Podcast :: Yuck!
    I abhor force feeding.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Convictions - Installment #7

New to Convictions?
Full story:  Index
Quick Story: In a Nutshell 
Beth opened the parole office door and walked into a small reception area. A woman in street clothes sat behind a glass window. Two rows of straight back chairs were nearly filled by men and women of varying ages. Some in sweats, others in jeans, a few in dresses and business suits. Beth approached the window and the woman slid it open.

. . .
“This your first visit? Sign in here. Then check that table. There's a visit form that must be filled out each time you're here. There's another to accompany your monthly fee.”

“Fee?” No one had mentioned that.

“The parole fee is $30 per month. Don't worry about that today. You can discuss a payment arrangement with your parole officer.”

She found a chair and completed the short form. There was steady traffic in and out of the locked entrance to the offices. An officer would appear at the entrance and call a parolee's name. Their visit was usually completed in less than five minutes, although she noticed one who didn't return. There wasn't much else to see in the small room. One wall held a large bulletin board with job postings. Another displayed posters warning of the penalties for using drugs or possessing weapons.


A middle-aged woman, whose short hair was streaked with gray, stood in the doorway. Beth rose and followed her past a series of small offices. The woman entered one, then turned to Beth.

“I'm Officer Watkins.”

She gestured for Beth to sit and opened a folder marked Hollister.

“You're staying at Redemption House.”


“Then you have your first month's employment. I know that it doesn't pay cash, but you will still be responsible for the parole fee this month. Do you have any money?

“About fifty dollars.”

“The fee is $30 per month. Why don't you pay $10 now and we'll defer payment on the rest until you have a more lucrative position.”

Beth nodded her agreement.

“You'll be required to make visits on a weekly basis. The frequency may change, depending on your parole record. You're scheduled for Tuesday. Come in anytime between 7am and 6pm. There's a 10pm curfew. That shouldn't be a problem for you, since Redemption House has a much stricter one.”

“Do you need clothing?”

The question took Beth by surprise.

“I have a couple of outfits.”

You'll need more than that. We keep a supply of used clothing available. It's not fancy, but it's clean. Come with me.”

They headed to a small room at the back of the building that was filled with used clothing and bedding. Beth selected two pairs of jeans, a couple shirts and a winter jacket. Weather was getting cooler. She'd probably be grateful to have it, even if just to walk to these visits. Officer Watkins gave Beth a paper bag to hold her selections. Then she escorted her to the door. Beth heard her calling the next parolee before she exited the reception area.

She couldn't have asked for anything easier, she reflected, as she crossed the street towards the coffee shop. This would not be nearly as hard as Redemption House. She just needed to follow the rules and there weren't that many. She longed for the day when she would leave the halfway house, then reminded herself that she had just begun.

Cassandra was enjoying another cup of coffee and a sweet roll. She confessed to eating a large breakfast, but claimed she needed to fill up while she had edible food. Beth declined a cup of coffee, nervous that a longer absence might be noticed. She would do nothing to jeopardize her freedom.

The walk back to Redemption House ended too quickly. Beth took a reluctant look at the blue sky and headed in the door of the building.

Lord's Servant Margaret assigned Beth to cleaning duties. Cassandra scowled and walked off. Beth merely nodded and asked where to find the cleaning supplies. She only worked a short time before being summoned to a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. There was no formal service before the noontime meal. Beth was the only resident seated at her table. She wondered where Cassandra had gone. Perhaps she wasn't hungry after her large breakfast. Most of the residents had outside jobs and were provided with a bagged lunch. Pastor Bob was not present either. Margaret mentioned that he was attending to church business and offered a short prayer of thanks for the Lord's bounty. Looking down at peanut butter on stale bread, Beth could barely restrain a giggle.

The post-lunch cleanup was quick and Beth returned to her assigned tasks. It was nearly 3pm when she was summoned to Pastor Bob's office.

“I understand that you can cook.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That position is usually reserved for residents of much more advanced standing. The cook's duties prevent her from attending daily services. These services are important for those new residents who are not yet servants of the Lord. However, after prayerful consideration, the Lord has inspired me to make an exception.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lord's Servant Cassandra has offered to spend time each day, praying with you and instructing you in the Lord's ways. Our refrigerators are small, which necessitates daily shopping trips. Cassandra will escort you on these trips. You are still restricted from leaving the building alone.”

Leave the building every day? Beth struggled to maintain her composure.

“Yes, sir.”

“Our food budget is small. You will receive one dollar per day for each resident. You must file a daily report of your expenditures and attach receipts.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You may also use the food distribution center on Covair Street. Redemption House is authorized to receive surplus from them, although our most recent cooks have not found it very helpful. Lord's Servant Cassandra knows where it's located.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pastor Bob took an envelope from his desktop.

Here is your first day's budget. It needs to cover breakfast and lunch tomorrow as well as this evening's meal. Prepare meals for fifty people.”


“Surely that should not be a problem, if you are the skilled cook that you claim to be. Or is this another one of your deceits?”

Beth did not remember making any such claim, but refrained from saying so.

“It will not be a problem, sir.”

“Since the cook is required to rise earlier than other residents, she has separate quarters off the kitchen. You may relocate your possessions after dinner.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well then. I will see you at dinner.”

Beth gave a nod and left the office. Less than 3 hours to shop and prepare dinner for 50 people.

What had Cassandra got her into?

And where was she?

Want to read more?   Check back next Saturday for a new installment.

Don't forget to head over to the Weekend Writers' Retreat to enjoy submissions from more authors.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Skies #1

My balance, or lack thereof, makes it difficult to take photos.  So I decided to share this Memphis sky that my daughter captured moments before the sun sank from view last night.

I couldn't resist playing a bit. I don't think it's possible to beat nature, but I did think that this version, created with a PSP Chalk effect, accentuates the details on the ground and gives a different perspective to the sky. It's lighter and made me wonder if that was how the sky had looked a little earlier.


Thursday, February 25, 2010


Thursday Thirteen - Grandma isn't listless anymore

Dear Grandma,
You are one of the most outstanding people I have ever known. Still, I wondered if you've ever looked back on your life and had any regrets. I hope to learn from your wisdom and experience.

Young and Foolish

Dear Y and F,
You may be less foolish than you think.  Your  letter certainly shows a great deal of insight. Congratulations on being so perceptive. I've given this question all the thought it deserves and you'll find a complete list below:

  1. I regret I didn't start this advice column earlier in life. This is so easy. And think of all the folks I could have inspired.

That about sums it up.  But if anything else comes to me, I'll be sure to hide it let you know.

Your humble role model,


Grandma is delighted to be a participant in the Thursday Thirteen meme. You should check it out.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!
Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Yesterday was National Pancake day.  Hope you enjoyed some.  If not, it's never too late.  This versatile food tastes great and costs little to make.  That's reason enough to celebrate in the current economy.   We frequently enjoy them as an evening meal.  My granddaughter calls it "breakfast for supper".  Give it a try.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rumor Has It

There is no humor,
in spreading a rumor.
They cause so much sorrow and pain.

Still like a tumor,
a tenacious rumor
will surface again and again.

I claim that I hate it.
But do I abate it?
Stop it or just hear it through?

And what if it's true?
So I share it with you.
How do they spread? We haven't a clue!

Monday, February 22, 2010


Darkness all around me. I'm cocooned in warm blankets and the silence that envelops our house. I snuggle deeper in the blankets and close my eyes again. Suddenly panic strikes and sleep flees. I didn't post, I missed a day of posting. How could I let that happened?

I'm not usually a superstitious person. I don't avoid black cats, stress over broken mirrors or avoid cracks in the sidewalk. Posting is different.

I tried blogging once and lasted for two weeks. In retrospect, I could see that the subject matter was narrow and required a substantial amount of preparation. The blog might have been better suited to a weekly or monthly format. Daily posts consumed all of my time and became quite stressful. After two weeks, I made a decision to limit posts to twice a week. I felt stress flow away as I enjoyed a well deserved day away from the blogging world. And then another one. Days turned to weeks and then to months. I never posted again.

My decision to start Grandma's Goulash was quite impulsive, but I had learned something from experience. Grandma's blog is a big pot of goulash and there's just no telling what you'll find in it. Posts vary in subject matter and length. Some require substantial preparation, others are created in minutes. It's a much less stressful blogging format and I look forward to throwing something in the pot each day. But my previous experience lingers. If I fail to post, will all be lost? Will the goulash pot be abandoned? My logical mind says no, but the subconscious one panics. How did I let this happen?

Most of Monday was spent working on Convictions. I was pleased to have a final draft for one installment and a rough draft for two more. Perhaps my mind had confused that work with posting. Now I lay awake, bemoaning my error. I hear soft voices coming from the other side of the house. Calico and Muffin are awake? I focus my eyes on the clock. The red digital glare proclaims 8:35pm. I've taken a long nap, but it is still Monday. Like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I'm elated that I haven't missed the day. I head for my computer.

Sorry, Tiny Tim. I'm not sending a turkey. But at least there's something for the pot.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cat-astrophic Predictions

We have a weather forecaster cat. He's probably more accurate than most. But he's definitely not into long term predictions. This morning he was basking in the sun that streamed through the windows, contemplating the fluffy white clouds that slowly drifted across the sky. Now he's shoved his 20+ lb. frame under a living room chair, a sure sign that he's predicting the worse. He's not wrong. The sky has turned gray and there's the persistent rumble of thunder. Rain sprinkles intermittently and threatens to turn into a real downfall. Calico and Muffin had planned to get some sunset pics of the Mississippi today. Clark's predicting that's not going to happen.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Convictions - Installment #6

New to Convictions?
Full story:  Index
Quick Story: In a Nutshell 
Beth lay on the narrow bunk, exhausted, but unable to sleep. How could it be less than a day since she walked out of prison? So much had happened. She swayed between hope and fear. This was a stepping stone to freedom. In six months, she could apply to live on her own. At the moment, that seemed like an eternity. But failure meant a return to prison. Her chances for this parole had been slim. Another would be impossible. She had to find a way to survive here. She had earned Pastor Bob's distrust before she walked in the door. It wasn't going to be easy.

“Stay below the radar, girl. Just stay below the radar.”

. . .
Hannah's voice came clearly to her. Beth did not remember much about those first days in prison. In shock from loss and the sudden changes in her life, she was oblivious to most of her surroundings. But she did remember Hannah, a tiny lady in her fifties, who had spent over twenty years in prison for murdering her abusive spouse. And she remembered her advice.

“You've got to pull yourself together, girl. Don't attract attention. Not from the guards and not from the inmates. It will make you a target. If you need to cry, go take a shower. No one will hear you above the water. Don't take gifts and don't accept friendships. Be polite, but don't get close. In a while, you'll start to know who is safe. For now, be invisible. Do your work assignments. Follow the rules. Keep to yourself. Stay below the radar, girl. Just stay below the radar.”

The advice had proved solid. Perhaps it would work here as well. She'd already learned some of the routine. After leaving Pastor Bob, Cassandra had led her back down the narrow hall and through a recreation area. It held several worn sofas and a couple of folding tables and chairs. A small TV sat in one corner with wire coat hangers substituting for antenna. A number of residents sat watching it. No one looked up as they passed by. A door on the back wall opened into another hallway. They walked to the end, passing several small and identically furnished rooms. Bunk beds were shoved against three walls. The floor space that remained was barely sufficient to allow the door to open and close. Four wooden crates fit tightly under each bottom bunk. At the last room, Cassandra pointed to the upper bunk that would be Beth's and indicated two empty crates for her possessions. The contents of her handbag didn't fill one. Plenty of room to expand. Not that she would have the money or opportunity to shop any time soon.

Beth would have liked a few minutes to chat with Cassandra. She hoped to learn a little more about the house and it's residents. But Cassandra hurried her to the worship service. Tardiness, she explained, resulted in loss of the dinner which followed. Beth was hungry and didn't argue.

The dining area was also used for services. At Gran's church, worship had been filled with joyful music. Sermons spoke of love and forgiveness. Prison services were not that different. Pastor Bob's was devoid of song and his sermon focused on the wages of sin. It concluded with an introduction of the two new residents, Beth and Dorinda, and a lengthy prayer that they would be saved from the evil of their previous lives.

At the conclusion of the service, residents setup the folding tables and grouped the chairs around them. Cassandra explained that the residents of each bedroom also shared a dining table. Two residents from each table went to the kitchen and brought back food for their table. Fifteen years in prison had not given her high expectations for food, but the evening meal was a new low. A plate of overcooked pasta disintegrated into an already pasty gravy. Four small slices of canned peaches floated in a pool of thick syrup. Each table was also allotted a half loaf of slightly stale bread, but no margarine. Beth ate the peaches, but decided she wasn't hungry enough to touch the pasta. Cassandra nudged her and whispered that she would be in trouble if she left food on her plate. She set her mind elsewhere and began to eat.

Residents were not allowed to leave the house after dinner, but were free to spend time in the recreation area or their bedrooms. Beth had started to follow Cassandra out of the dining room, but was detained by Lord's Servant Margaret. She explained that new residents were expected to clean the kitchen and dining areas after meals. Although she stayed and gave numerous instructions, she never assisted Dorinda and Bethany as they completed the tasks. By the time they were finished, the recreation period was almost over. Residents rose early and lights went out at 10pm. Beth's tired body had craved sleep, but her mind could not settle. It seemed that hours passed before she finally drifted off.

A bell clanged and a booming voice jolted Beth from her short slumber.

“Praise the Lord for a new day. Praise the Lord.”

It was 5:30am. Residents rushed to the communal bathroom, trying to wash and get dressed before the 6am worship service. Breakfast would follow. Cassandra explained that this allowed residents to attend services before leaving for work. The morning's service was a repeat of the previous evening's. Pastor Bob reminded them that the new day provided another opportunity to repent of their evil ways. Even he did not finish the breakfast of burnt oatmeal and poorly reconstituted milk that followed his sermon. Beth and Dorinda headed to the kitchen to clean. Cassandra told Beth to find her when she was done. She would be accompanying Beth to the parole office. Dorinda had visited yesterday, so it would be just the two of them.

Beth was happy to learn that she would be escorted by Cassandra, who seemed more relaxed than Margaret. The time outside the building might provide an opportunity to learn more. Soon, they headed down the elevator and out to the sidewalk. Beth drew a deep breath as she left the suffocating environment of Redemption House. She had been there less than a day. How would she tolerate a week?

They walked down the street and turned a corner. Beth was mulling over an opening question, when Cassandra pulled a cigarette from her pocket and lit it. Beth's face revealed her surprise. Cassandra grinned.

“Not quite what you'd expect from a Lord's Servant?“

“I'm not really sure what to expect of anyone here.”

“Just give it some time. How long were you down for?”

“Fifteen years.”

Cassandra's face fell.

“What's wrong?”

“I was hoping you'd had a chance to learn how to cook before you got locked up. But you must have been pretty young, if you were in that long. Too bad. We're going to starve if they can't find someone who can cook.”

“Actually, I learned to cook when I was quite young. It's been a lot of years, but I don't think I've forgotten how.”

“Let me see what I can do. It would make me happy and I bet you'd prefer cooking to cleaning toilets.”

The walk took about 10 minutes. Beth learned that Lord's Servant Margaret was not a resident, but Pastor Bob's wife. They received some assistance from members of their church, but were the only full time staff.

“Don't let Pastor Bob intimidate you. He wants you to think that he sees everything. But he really knows very little about what happens in the House. Just stay below the radar.”

Beth smiled and relaxed a bit when she heard those familiar words. Cassandra stopped and pointed across the street.

“That's the parole office. When you're done, come find me here." She pointed to a small coffee shop. "I'm going to get me some real breakfast.”

Want to read more?   Check back next Saturday for a new installment.

Don't forget to head over to the Weekend Writers' Retreat to enjoy submissions from more authors.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ashes and Soap - The Conclusion

Miss the beginning? You'll find it here.

As an adult, I never gave up sweets for Lent. I never gave anything up. Times had changed. More emphasis was placed on doing good and making positive changes. I embraced the new philosophy, happily donating to charity and volunteering for good causes. Until one year . . .

I had started watching a soap opera when my daughter was young. It was a little quiet time for myself. I'd put her down for a nap, fix myself a snack and spend a blissful hour away from reality. When I switched to a day shift, I used a timer to turn on my TV and record the show. In those days, it was only an audio tape. But I had little difficulty identifying the characters by their voices, their problems or the music that preceded their scenes. I was thrilled when my employer developed a flexible hours policy. I chose an early schedule and skipped the lunch break, which allowed me to be home in time for my show. I'd race into the house and turn on the TV. During the first break, I'd fix my lunch and settle in. Sometimes I'd get so involved that I'd forget about eating. The show would end and half my lunch was uneaten. So I'd finish it while watching the next soap. At first just a few minutes, and then, of course, the whole thing. By that time, my daughter was in high school and had started watching a soap when she got home from school. I decided to join her. After all, it's important to share some common interests with your child and we did discuss her day during the commercial breaks. Good parenting, right?

One day I realized that my home had disintegrated. What had happened to my time? The time for cleaning? The time for paying bills that were now overdue and lost in clutter? Why couldn't I do homework for one college class? What had happened to weekly menu plans and shopping trips? I took a cold, hard look at where the time had gone. I faced the reality. I was a soap opera addict.

Lent was approaching. Perhaps I could use this season to moderate my viewing habits. I'd give up soap operas for six weeks. After that I'd probably find it easier to stick with just one. At the very least, I'd have six weeks to catch up with everything that had slipped. Ash Wednesday arrived and I went cold turkey. Stopped reading soap digests. Didn't elicit information from friends. Avoided the living room while my daughter watched her show.

Withdrawal was painful. I tried not to think about my shows, but addiction triggers were everywhere. That guy looks just like Lance. Isn't that Audrey and Jake's song? My friend's problem is just like the one that Elizabeth and Gregory faced. My dreams were filled with imaginary scenes. The pain seemed unending, but after a week of total misery, the addiction gradually loosened it's hold. Organization slowly returned to my life. Days were no longer planned around the soap opera schedule. I felt a new sense of personal power and control.

Suddenly Easter arrived. I had impatiently awaited this day, or more accurately the day after. The day when I would watch my soaps again. Then I realized. It had been a long time since I'd thought about a soap or dreamed about the characters. The intimate details of their lives no longer held any fascination. I just didn't care.

More than 10 years passed before I watched a soap again. While flipping through channels looking for a good movie, I saw it. My old favorite. Feeling both curious and nervous, I selected the channel. What has happened to my show? I don't recognize any of these characters. Just a bunch of silly young kids. Wait. Who is that older woman? No. That can't be Catherine, the famous villainous diva. Why does she have those wrinkles? Why is she giving motherly advice to those young kids? I can't take this. Just leave me with the memories.

I walked away. No, I ran. And I've never been back.

Is there a moral to this story? Did I come to a fuller appreciation of the Lenten season? Did I embrace my mother's Lenten philosophy?

No. I never gave up anything for Lent again. Why? I'm not really sure.  Let's just say that Grandma needs to keep a few of her vices.


Join us at the Weekend Writer's Retreat to share your work. Or just stop by to appreciate others'.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unlimited Cash

Thursday Thirteen - Grandma isn't listless anymore

You've won a multi-million dollar lottery. But there is a catch. You have to spend it on yourself. You can't donate to charitable causes, establish scholarship foundations, give gifts to family and friends, place it in trusts or fund research to cure cancer. You get the idea. The money must be spent on yourself. If you live with other people, you can purchase things that they would enjoy, but it must be something that you would also like. Using that premise, I challenged myself to come up with 13 things I'd buy for myself.

Good Health
I know that money can't guarantee good health, but I'd be willing to spend money on the best specialists and treatments that money can buy. I'd like to know what could be done outside the limitations of health insurance and meager finances.

A Motorized Scooter
If money can't buy perfect health, I'd enjoy some things that make living easier. I'd love the mobility that those scooters provide.

A New House
Custom built with a full basement and attic. Wood floors with radiant heating. A large study with custom built shelving and three desks. Okay, I wouldn't be using all three of those desks. But I wouldn't enjoy it without Calico and Muffin. I don't care how many stories, but it has to have an elevator to all of them. Location? On a waterfront. Or the top of a mountain. OK, I'll take both. After all, I am a multi millionaire.

I'd really enjoy picking out some new furnishings without concern for cost. I might even enjoy the shopping more than the purchase. There's a few things I wouldn't replace: my mother's hope chest; an antique desk from my grandparents. But I'd have a lot of fun filling the rest of that new house with anything my heart desired.

Grand Piano
Not that my playing is so grand, but they make everything sound a little better. And besides, they look so, hmm, well ... grand!

Even if I don't drive much, it's nice to know that I could do it anytime I wanted to. So I want one for Calico and one for myself. My favorite car was my 2000 Buick Century. Everything about it was just right for me. I liked the color, the comfort of the seats, the size and the way that it drove. I even liked the style of cup holder that came with it. That was changed in later versions. So I'd have them build a brand new one just like that for me.

One outside, one inside. I loved one in a hotel that was surrounded by palm trees and greenery. You could hear birds twittering in the trees. Yeah, I know that was piped music, but I loved it anyway. I want the little thatched hut where drinks and snacks are made. And someone to bring them to me as I lounge by the side of the pool.

That would feel so wonderful on the days when my bones are aching. And even if those miracle docs cure the arthritis, I'd take it just for relaxation value. Needless to say, there would also be staff nearby to increase the relaxation with a lengthy massage.

I'd like some new appliances for my house. But I'll skip the stainless steel stuff. I really miss the Bosch dishwasher that we had in our home in Georgia. It was super quiet and had a built-in garbage disposal, so the dishes didn't have to be cleaned before they were cleaned. Unlike the current evil dishwasher, it never overflowed. If they make one that loads dishes straight from the table and returns them to the cupboard after the dry cycle, I'm willing to spend the money.

Both Calico and I are dish addicts. See a new pattern and we want it. Same goes for crystal and flatware. I'm giddy just thinking about unlimited buying. Guess I'd better be sure the new house can hold all of it.

Techie Stuff
Why have that custom built office, if I can't fill it with state of the art computers and software. These are the things that warm an aging geek's heart. Hmm, maybe that's what I need instead of a pricey cardiologist.

Media Room
Guess that's part of the house. But I want it fully stocked with all my favorite movies available at the touch of a button. Got to have big comfy reclining chairs. I want a popcorn machine and cold drinks. And my favorite movie theater candy, Jujy Fruits.

Who wants to take care of all this stuff? Guess I'd better have lots of staff to keep everything in tiptop shape. But I don't want my privacy invaded. Maybe I'll skip the staff and get myself a magic wand. How much do those things cost? What if I won another lottery?


Grandma is delighted to be a participant in the Thursday Thirteen meme. You should check it out.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!
Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes and Soap - The Early Years

It's Ash Wednesday.

As a child, I greeted this day with mixed feelings. It was fun to miss the first couple hours of school, even if that meant attending a church service. I even enjoyed the service, if they were burning a lot of incense. I just loved the smell of that stuff. I liked the idea of running around all day with a dirty forehead too. But how could any of that compensate for six weeks without sweets? I'd have been perfectly content to wear sack cloth and ashes for that period, but my mother knew what would really make an impact. And it did. I gained expert negotiation skills, convincing friends to trade cookies for an apple. Became a skilled magician too. Candy dishes and cookie jars were in plentiful supply at my grandmother's house. But during the Lenten season, the contents would magically disappear. If my grandmother noticed that these disappearances coincided with my visits, she never said a word. I even used these skills at home occasionally, although it took some searching to find the goods. For some reason, my brothers always got blamed for the disappearances. Sorry, guys. Desperate times, desperate measures.

No, I didn't forget about the soap part. That's in the conclusion to my little tale. Check for it on Friday.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

For Medicinal Purposes

I remember an old Buck Rogers episode. He's traveled to the future and is offered a heavily marbled steak, cream puffs and candy for dinner. Unlike the doctors of his time, medical professionals had discovered that these foods are very beneficial to health. Such are the dreams of science fiction. Right?

Maybe not. Dark chocolate is starting to sound like the new miracle drug. Many of us have experienced the mood enhancing properties of chocolate in any form. Dark chocolate has a lot of additional benefits:

Aging and Heart Disease
Dark chocolate contains a large amount of antioxidants. According to one article, nearly eight times as many as strawberries. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, which cause all kinds of damage and can lead to heart disease. Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce bad cholesterol by up to 10 percent.

Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Dark chocolate joins berries, soy, parsley and red wine as an anti-angiogenesis food. That's a food that stops tumors from making new blood cells and consequently from growing. Eating more than one of the foods will increase the effect. Wine, Chinese and dark chocolate make a healthful meal? I like that.

Stroke Prevention
Neurologists are now reviewing studies that show a relationship between the consumption of dark chocolate and the prevention of strokes. They caution that other factors could be influencing the study results. Wealth for example. Wealthier people, who could afford to buy more chocolate, could also afford better health care. Health-conscious individuals may consume more dark chocolate because they are aware of it's other health benefits. They may also be doing regular workouts at the gym. Additional studies are needed to eliminate these factors.

I'm not wealthy and I don't work out at the gym. Or anywhere else. I plan to consume a lot more dark chocolate and see how it goes. Understand that my motives are pure. I'm just trying to help with the research.


Monday, February 15, 2010

With Thanks

We've really got a holiday overload in progress. Yesterday there was Valentine's Day and the Chinese New Year. Today we celebrate Presidents Day.

I'm happy to honor our first president and each of his successors.

Whatever their political views.
Regardless of moral strengths or weaknesses.
Whatever their domestic or foreign policies.

Being president is a tough job and a dangerous one. It's a life of continual scrutiny and criticism. I cannot imagine living that life for even one day.

So today I give my respect and thanks to each of them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love in the Air - Conclusion

Miss the beginning? You'll find it here.

The ambulance drove down Oakland Street without lights or sirens. There was no need to hurry. Several police cars remained and there seemed to be a steady flow of officers in and out of the house. On the sidewalk, Amanda Cook's vociferous wail could be heard for blocks.

“She was my closest friend. My very dearest friend. Why only yesterday . . .”

Kevin stood on the sidewalk silently berating himself. Earlier that day, he had delivered more valentines for Miss Ward. She hadn't come to the door and he had left them in her mailbox. On any other Saturday, he would have knocked on the door to be sure she was alright. But Valentine's Day had caused his normal mail load to double. He'd continued his route, knowing that he'd be returning later. The thought of his little surprise had brought a smile to his face.

On his return, he found that he had company. Crystal Delwood was standing on the porch. Kevin delivered her mail too, although he rarely saw her except on Saturday. Crystal was balancing a heart-shaped cake in one hand, while knocking on the door with the other. She smiled when she saw the bouquet of roses in his right hand and a bag of Chinese takeout in the left.

“I'm not much of a cook", Kevin confessed. "And Miss Ward once mentioned how much she liked Chinese.”

“Looks like great planning to me. You've brought the decorations and the entree, I've brought the dessert.”

“It does look planned. Don't drop that pretty cake. I'll knock.”

His knock was more forceful then Crystal's. They waited.

“Where's your little girl?”

“Sleepover with a friend. She got a princess sleeping bag for Christmas and she's been waiting for a chance to try it out.”

Kevin knocked again. When there was still no answer, he thought about checking the mailbox. The valentines he'd delivered earlier were still inside.

“I'd better call for help. Could I use your phone?”

“Of course.”

At Crystal's house, Kevin made the call to 911 and they quickly headed back. A police car arrived shortly. Kevin was pleased to see that one of the officers was his buddy, Ray Hopkins. Ray also knocked on the door. Still no response. The other officer worked at getting the door open, while Ray checked that an ambulance had been dispatched. It arrived just as Ray's partner succeeded in opening the door. Kevin started to head in, but Ray restrained him.

“You have to stay out here, Kevin. I'll let you know as soon as I can.”

It was only a few minutes before Ray returned. He shook his head.

“I'm sorry, Kevin. You cared about her?”

“She's one of the nicest people I've ever known. Always thinking about others. It's just not right that she died alone.”

“I don't think she felt alone. She must have gone in her sleep. She was sitting in a rocking chair and there was a little smile on her face. There were a bunch of valentines in her lap. And more on the table beside her. Guess a lot of people liked her.”

Kevin smiled, although a tear trickled down one cheek.

“Last year, I noticed that she hadn't received any valentines. It didn't seem right. So this year, I got one for her. Even mailed it, so she wouldn't suspect it was from me. I mentioned it to a few neighbors, hoping they might want to send her one too. They liked the idea. Everyone had a story about the thoughtful things she'd done for them. But I didn't talk to that many people. I don't know where all those valentines came from.”

“Jamie made one for her and I mailed one too”, Crystal said. “I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. John Miller told me. Said that the winter he lost his job, Miss Ward had knit hats and mittens for each of his six children. Carol Jenkins had told him. Her vision's pretty bad. Miss Ward used to go over and read her mail to her. “

“Looks like you really started something”, Ray commented.

His partner came over. They had to leave.

Kevin and Crystal stood quietly for a few moments. It was cold and there was no reason to keep standing there. But it was hard to go.

“You left the roses and Chinese at my house, Kevin. Would you like to come get them?”

“That's okay. You're welcome to have them, Crystal.”

They stood a few minutes longer.

“I guess I should go now. You should go home too, Crystal. Get out of this cold.”

“You must be cold too. Why don't you come with me? I'll make some hot tea. Warm up that Chinese.”

A hint of color came to his cheeks. He looked down for a second. Then slowly raised his head and looked at her.

“I'd like that. I'd like that a lot.”


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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Convictions - Installment #5

New to Convictions?
Full story:  Index
Quick Story: In a Nutshell 
Beth had half expected that the barred door leading to Redemption House would be locked. Instead it had opened easily. The tiny foyer held two doors and an elevator. One door was marked as a stairwell. It was locked, as was the second unmarked door. The elevator was obviously the only means up. A directory was posted next to it. Redemption House - 10.

. . .
She exited the creaking elevator on the tenth floor. The tiny lobby was paneled in badly scarred wood and barely covered by a threadbare gray carpet. The door marked Redemption House was locked. Beth pushed an intercom button and a voice asked for her name. In a minute, she was greeted by a tall thin woman.

“I am Lord's Servant Margaret. Pastor Bob will meet with you first. Please follow me.”

Without waiting for a response, she headed down a long hallway. Beth followed, relieved at not having to return a greeting. Was “Lord's Servant” a description or a title? Margaret had certainly made it sound like a title, but she couldn't quite imagine herself saying “Pleased to meet you, Lord's Servant Margaret.” She stifled a nervous giggle and quietly followed. They passed a number of closed doors and stopped outside one near the end of the hall. Margaret pointed at a narrow wooden bench.

“Please wait here for Pastor Bob.”

She headed back down the hall without another word. Beth sat and checked her surroundings. Beyond Pastor Bob's office, the hall opened into a large room. Several short rows of metal chairs faced left. Long folding tables rested against the far wall. Not much more was visible from the bench, but the smells of cooking food wafted through the opening. Another room was visible at the opposite end of the hall. Occasionally, Beth could see people walking past the opening, but the distance prevented her from hearing anything. Time passed. Nervousness and boredom alternated. Much like waiting for a parole board hearing. Sitting on the benches outside the hearing room. Watching other inmates go in and come back out. Many in tears, although they would not receive the hearing results for several weeks.

Beth had received an indeterminate sentence of 10 to 25 years. Both inmates and guards had told her that she was likely to serve the maximum. Parole was not frequently granted to those convicted of violent crimes. Still she had hoped. The hearing was a devastating experience. Given little opportunity to speak, she'd sensed that the meeting was a formality. An opportunity to berate her for “the heinous nature” of her crime. A decision had been reached before she walked in the door. When the denial letter arrived, it cited lack of remorse for her crime and deemed her a danger to the community. She watched the opportunity for a normal life slipping past her. Career, marriage, children. Each passing year lessened the likelihood of experiencing them. Months of depression followed the first rejection. Occasionally, she wondered if there was a way to overcome the odds. But the depression had created inertia and she did nothing.

She was fully prepared for the rejection when she faced the board two years later. Still, it hurt. Hope did not die easily. This time, however, despair was replaced with determination. She searched for a pattern in the board's decisions. Good behavior, public opinion and acceptance to a halfway house appeared to be major factors in an inmate's release. Her behavior had always been exemplary. No letters had been filed objecting to her release. That left acceptance to a halfway house. She submitted several applications, but was rejected based on “the nature of the crime.” Another inmate suggested that she check out a couple of church-sponsored houses that occasionally accepted those with violent crimes. Church had played no role in her early life. Later she had attended some services with Gran, but the parts she enjoyed were social, not religious. A number of religious sects offered weekly services for the prisoners. Many inmates attended regularly. Some from religious belief, others for diversion from prison tedium. Beth had never attended a single service. It seemed highly unlikely that any religious-based house would consider her. But driven by the hope of freedom, she began attending services on Sundays and joined a Wednesday evening prayer group. She knew that many people found great comfort in their religious beliefs. Even wondered if the regular attendance would help her understand. But after several months, she knew she would never be a believer. Still, she took the next step and made a public acceptance of Jesus as her savior. On visiting days, she met with church missionaries for Bible instruction and prayer. Inside, she felt like a hypocrite. But years of surviving in prison had taught her how to control her emotions. The outside appearance was believable.

Shortly before her fourteenth year review, she received acceptance to Redemption House, a home run by a small religious sect, the Redemptarians. The board commended her progress, but denied release. She would be reviewed again in one year instead of two. It was the only positive note. She read and reread the denial notice. “Failure to accept responsibility for this crime.” Although it was a standard phrase used in many denials, it touched a deep wound. Beth had always felt responsible. She should never have left the house that night. She had been haunted for years by that thought. At the next review, tears ran down her cheeks as she told the review board with unmistakable sincerity, “I'd give anything if I could change my actions on that night.” After 15 years, she was released from prison.

“No. I didn't. I swear to you I didn't. Just give me another chance.” The pleading voice came from inside Pastor Bob's office. A man's voice made a reply, but Beth couldn't make out what he was saying. Suddenly, two armed officers were standing next to her. One held cuffs in her hands. Shaking, Beth forced herself to remain seated. The second officer knocked on the door and they were quickly admitted. The woman's wails intensified. Only a few minutes passed before the door opened again and the officers escorted the dejected woman back down the hall, hands cuffed behind her back

A man appeared in the doorway. His deeply authoritative voice provided a startling contrast to his small stature.

“Bethany Hollister.” It was more a command than a question.

“Yes, sir.”

“You may come in now.”

She rose on shaking legs. Pastor Bob directed her to sit in one of the two metal chairs that faced the front of his desk. Although his office chair was far more upholstered, he sat with a military rigidity and his face remained expressionless.

“I'm glad you got to see that. It's important for you to realize that we will not tolerate any violation of your parole requirements. Any infraction will be immediately reported to your parole officer. Tomorrow morning after services, you will be escorted to the parole office to check in. For the next thirty days, you will only leave Redemption House for your parole appointments and you will always be escorted. As you know, all parolees are required to work. For the next month, you will be employed by Redemption House. You will assist with cleaning and meal preparation. In exchange, your room and board fee for the month will be waived. Upon satisfactory completion of this month, you will be allowed to seek outside employment.”

He paused.

“If you last that long. Our committee was divided over your acceptance. You did not have my vote. I don't trust those who find Our Savior as they approach the possibility of parole. Some argued that you have shown faithfulness for three years, a long time to keep up a pretense. That may be true, but your crime demonstrates your capacity for deceit. The Lord allows me to see through such deceit. Don't think you can hide the truth from me.”

He picked up the phone and pushed a button. “Please send Lord's Servant Cassandra now.”

“Lord's Servant Cassandra is one of our finest examples of God's saving powers. You'll be assigned to her room and she will orient you to life at Redemption House.”

Cassandra appeared at the door. It occurred to Beth that she hadn't uttered a single word since entering the pastor's office. He stood and motioned towards the door.

“May Jesus go with you.”

Not likely, she thought irreverently, as she followed the plump black girl down the hall. Why would Jesus want to hang out here?

Want to read more?   Check back next Saturday for the next installment.

Don't forget to head over to the Weekend Writers' Retreat to enjoy submissions from more authors.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Love In The Air - Part 2

Did you miss Part 1? You'll find it here.

On the morning of February 12th, Janet peeked out the window. No new snow and the sidewalk was clear. Good. She continued watching until Crystal, a single mother who lived two houses down, passed by. She was walking her daughter to school. After that, she would head to her job at the local supermarket. It must have been tiring to work at the checkout for so many hours each day, but Crystal never complained. When she saw Janet in the window, she smiled and waved. Such a sweet girl. Thoughtful too. She frequently dropped by with a small casserole or an invitation to dinner. In the summertime, she sent Jamie over with flowers from the beds she tended daily. Janet loved receiving them and she loved Jamie even more. The bright and engaging 6 year old regaled her with stories and Janet's refrigerator was covered with her artwork. She looked forward to warm weather when Jamie would visit more frequently.

Janet would be heading to Crystal's house after lunch. Tomorrow was Saturday, too late to accomplish her mission undetected. She went to the kitchen and packed a canister with heart cookies. Placing it inside a plastic grocery bag, she hooked the handle over the knob of the entryway closet. That would save a few extra steps when she was ready to leave. She hoped that she could manage this. Her strength had been declining, hardly unexpected for a woman in her 90's. Kevin would have been glad to help her, but she wanted to do this herself. Just as she had each year since Crystal and Jamie moved to the neighborhood.

After lunch, she went to the closet and retrieved her coat, hat and cane. Unhooking the cookies from the door knob, she headed out. As she made her way down the sidewalk, Janet thought about the last few days. The red valentine had been followed by a pink envelope taped to her door. Inside it was a valentine signed “from someone who loves you.” Each day, Kevin delivered more. The handwriting on each was different. Only one was identifiable. A red construction paper heart glued to a lace doily. “Happy Valentines Day. From your friend, Jamie.” The rest of the cards remained a mystery. Janet enjoyed mystery novels and was good at solving them. But this real life mystery didn't provide a single clue. She tried eliminating possibilities. Relatives were out. She had never married and her only brother had died years before. His daughter followed him a few years later. There was one grandniece. Stella was breathlessly waiting to inherit the house, but had never sent a card for any occasion. Thirty years had passed since her retirement. She'd gradually lost contact with co-workers and students. She couldn't think of anyone else who might be sending a valentine. Now all of these. One card was an unexpected surprise. This many was impossible. But it was happening.

At Crystal's house, she opened the storm door and hung the bag over the inner knob. That should keep them safe until Crystal and Jamie returned. Although it was cold, she sat on a porch bench to catch her breath before heading back. Oh, no. Across the street, a curtain had been pushed aside and Amanda Cook's face appeared in the window. Amanda Cook didn't like Crystal. To be truthful, she didn't seem to like anyone. Although she frequently proclaimed herself to be a good Christian woman, it appeared that Amanda had forgotten a few of the basics. Loving your neighbor, for example.

Janet got up and headed for home. It was too late. As she reached the sidewalk, Amanda scurried across the street.

“What are you doing? Why were you at that woman's house?”

That woman. Amanda didn't like Crystal, but couldn't even remember her name. Janet didn't want to tell her anything. She thought quickly.

“A piece of her mail got mixed in with mine.” She instantly regretted her fabrication.

“What do you expect from a mailman like that? Someone should say something to him, but I'd be too scared. That strange lopsided face. Just like a monster. Probably got a criminal record. You'd think they'd do a background check before hiring. Of course, he could have done something that hasn't been discovered... “

Janet wished she had the youth and strength to run. She mentally conceded that Amanda might have some concern for her well-being. But she would rather walk without assistance than listen to more of those unloving and unfounded speculations. She tried unsuccessfully to block it out.

“Did you know that woman is an unwed mother? Not even a divorcee, although that would be bad enough. If she were divorced, that little girl would get visits from her father. I've watched. That's never happened. The child will probably grow up to be a tramp, just like her mother.”

Janet just kept walking. Crystal was a wonderful mother, regardless of her marital status. She could have told Amanda about Crystal's husband. James had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after they learned that Crystal was pregnant. He had not lived to see Jamie's birth. Amanda wouldn't believe her anyway. Just as she wouldn't care about the origin of Kevin's injuries. Amanda used her hatred as a shield to protect her insecurities. Nothing Janet said could penetrate that barrier. Finally they reached her door.

“Thanks for your assistance, Amanda. Guess I'd better take a nap now. The walk wore me out.”

She slipped quickly inside before Amanda could say anything more.

She really was tired. She made her way to the rocker and looked at the new valentines Kevin had delivered earlier. She took her time opening them, smiling again and again as she read the messages. They were truly a wonderful surprise, but she didn't need them to know that she was loved. She pitied those, like Amanda, who blocked love from their lives. And the impoverished people who thought that romantic love was the only meaningful kind. Love was abundant. It was in the air. In a child's smile. In a friend's hug. In neighborly kindness and thoughtful deeds. Suddenly Crystal and Kevin came to mind. Together. She'd never been a matchmaker, but thought they'd make a wonderful couple. She was still holding her valentines and thinking of them as she drifted off to sleep.

Check back on Sunday for the conclusion of Love In The Air.


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Romance By The Numbers

Thursday Thirteen - Grandma isn't listless anymore

'Tis the season for romance. February 14th approaches and in it's
honor I've stretched the list to 14 and added lots of love.
  1. chance encounter
  2. people saying, "Don't I know you?"
  3. minutes of remembering where
  4. hours of reminiscing in a coffee shop
  5. days of waiting for him to call
  6. days before the first date
  7. hours of flirtation
  8. weeks of putting their best foot forward
  9. months of getting to know and love the real person
  10. roses and a diamond ring
  11. months of planning
  12. hours of celebrating with family and friends
  13. days of honeymooning
  14. months pass and there's a new little person to love


Grandma is delighted to be a participant in the Thursday Thirteen meme. You should check it out.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Hearts Beat

If you'd like a story as well as a picture, check out my short story,  Love In The Air. I enjoyed writing this Valentine's  love story and hope that you will enjoy it too. It will be posted in three parts.   The second part will be posted on Friday and the conclusion, quite appropriately, will appear on Valentines Day. 

Wishing you a Happy Valentine's day and much love in your life.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chain Of Events

I believe in baby steps. Have a project that's too big? Break it into baby steps. Don't know how to approach a problem? Try something. Try anything. A single step can trigger a chain of events that produce results exceeding your wildest hopes.

Check the link below to read the first part of Love In The Air, a short story about love and an unexpected chain of Valentine events.

Love In The Air


Monday, February 8, 2010

Love In The Air - Part 1

It was February 2nd, when Janet Ward heard the sound of shoveling and peeked out the window. As she had expected, it was her mailman, Kevin. He was such a thoughtful young man. Whenever it had snowed, he would take a few minutes to clear her front steps and the short path to the sidewalk. She hurried to the kitchen and got a small bag that had been filled with heart shaped sugar cookies, iced with a pink glaze. She reached the door just as Kevin was returning the shovel to it's hook near the door.

“Good morning, Miss Ward. How are you doing today?”

“Pretty well, thanks, Kevin. Thanks so much for clearing the path.”

“Can't have you falling, Miss Ward. Better stay inside until it warms a bit more. If you need anything at the store, just let me know. I could go after I get off from work.”

“I don't have plans to go anywhere, Kevin, but thank you for your kind offer. Oh, wait. Here's a little something for you.”

Kevin peered in the bag and grinned.

“Thanks, Miss Ward. No one makes better cookies than you. And this is the first valentine's gift I've received in a long while. “

“A nice young man like you? I find that hard to believe.”

“Not that young, I'm afraid. I'll be 32 next month. Guess I scare off most of the eligible ladies.”

He pointed to the left side of his face, then patted his head.

“Not fair that I went bald early either. “ He grinned ruefully.

Janet knew about his face. Kevin had once told her about the car accident that had caused permanent damage to his left eye and facial muscles when he was only 10 years old. The left side of his face had less movement than the right and he always wore glasses. Still, he was quite attractive. A strong physique, an honest face, a kind and gentle spirit. These were the things she saw. These were the ones that mattered.

“I'm almost three times as old as you, Kevin. So stop acting like you're over the hill. Any young lady should be proud to be with you.”

Kevin ducked his head bashfully and checked his sack for her mail. A couple of advertisements, the electric bill and a bright red envelope.

“Miss Ward, it looks like you have a valentine.”

Her lined cheeks blushed with pleasure.

“I wonder who it's from. I haven't received a valentine in over 20 years.

“Well that's a shame, Miss Ward, because you surely deserve some.”

“Thanks, Kevin. You have a good day.”

She took the valentine back inside and placed it on the table next to her rocking chair.

Heading back to the kitchen, she fixed a cup of tea and put a sugar cookie on a plate. She returned to the chair and looked at the envelope again. No return address. The postmark was local. Who was it from?

There was only one way to find out. She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the beautiful card. It was obviously an expensive one. The front read “For someone very special.” Inside was a pretty verse and below them the words, “From an admirer”.

Who was it from?
Check back on Friday for Part 2. Then look for the conclusion on Valentine's Day.


Sunday, February 7, 2010


What is it about machines?

They look like inanimate objects. But I'm positive they are possessed by evil beings that sense when we need them most. Then they choose that moment to break down. Consider the copy machine before any presentation with a lot of handouts. The oven while you're cooking Thanksgiving dinner. The car when you're headed to the “can not miss” appointment.

Today, while Calico and I were trying to boost our virtual pet club ranking before the 2pm cutoff. We were working feverishly, when suddenly my browser came to a near standstill. When Calico was not using her PC, I did OK. But when both of us were working, my internet speed made that tortoise look like a speed demon. We generally use our computers at the same time without a problem. My granddaughter frequently joins us to do online school work. It still runs smoothly. So why did it come to a halt today? Because we needed it.

Some say that the stories about evil computers and robots taking over the world is science fiction. Grandma knows better.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Convictions - Installment #4

New to Convictions?
Full story:  Index
Quick Story: In a Nutshell 
Beth stood near the steps at the back of the church, wishing that she were still inside. Gran was in the basement, preparing buffet tables with most of the other ladies. In cooler weather, the men would have been there too, unfolding racks of tables and chairs to create a dining area. Today, however, they were playing a game of horseshoes at the side of the church. Soon everyone would be filling their plates and carrying them outside to enjoy the fine weather. Beth had sat in a corner watching the preparations until Gran had shooed her outside to play.

. . .
There were plenty of children outside, but none to play with. Some clustered in small groups talking. Others played tag or Red Rover.  A couple of teenagers kept younger children entertained at the play gym and sandbox. No one seemed to notice her. She usually wasn't shy and made friends easily at school. Children from diverse backgrounds attended Adamston's one elementary school. Race and financial status had never entered into her choice of friends. Gran, both poor and black, was the most secure and beloved person in her universe. But  church was a new setting for her. Looking out at the gathering, she was suddenly aware of being the only white child in a sea of dark faces. Feeling unsure and different, she suddenly longed for the security of her tree-house. That wasn't possible, of course, but perhaps she could find a quiet place to hide away. She walked along the back of the church, away from the children and the horseshoe game. Quickly rounding the corner, she nearly fell over a skinny girl sitting on a bench against the wall. It was hard to tell much else, she was hunched over and it seemed that her head was going to touch the book that was balanced on her knees.

“Ooh, sorry.”

“That's OK.”

The words were whispered. Impossible as it seemed, her head hung even lower. The girl's obvious discomfort made Beth overlook her own. She mustered her courage and introduced herself. She was rewarded by a slight lift of the head and saw a girl about her own age with a mop of coarse black hair and dark eyes magnified by thick glasses.

“I'm Skyla.”

“That's a pretty name.  I really like it.”

“Well, it's better than Skylark. That's what my mom wanted to call me. My dad wouldn't hear of it. Said that black folks were always naming their kids after cars.” So they finally agreed on Skyla. Dad got to choose my middle name.”

Skyla forgot her shyness as indignation filled her face.

“Do you know what he chose?” 
“He named me Bean. Yeah, like green beans. You can't name your child after a car, but you can name them after a vegetable?”

Beth could not repress her laughter and a wry grin appeared on Skyla's face.

“Don't feel bad. I was named after my two grandmothers.”

“That doesn't sound so bad.”

“Their names were Bethany and Elizabeth.

Skyla thought for a second and started to laugh.

“That makes you Beth Beth.”

“That's right, Bean.”

Amidst renewed laughter, a bond was formed.

“Do you like hiding spots?”

Beth thought of her tree-house again. “Oh, yes.”

“Come on. I'll show you my favorite one.”

Skyla headed toward the front of the church. On the way, she confided that she didn't make friends easily. Beth had guessed that, but didn't say so. One rainy day, Skyla had gone looking inside the church for a quiet spot. Her search had taken her up two flights of narrow stairs to the choir loft.

“They don't use it anymore. There's a lot of old ladies in the choir and it was hard for them to walk the stairs. Pastor decided to move the choir to the front of the church. That made the old ladies happy. Made me happy too.”

She opened a creaking wood door, revealing a small loft with six rows of rising benches. Sun streamed through the large stained glass window at the top and highlighted tiny dust particles floating everywhere. Only the bottom bench appeared relatively free from dust.  Skyla pointed to it.

"I always sit here. If anyone comes into the church, they can look up and see the top benches. But no one can see you down here.”

She had Beth check a small closet that had once been used to store choir robes and hymnals.  The closet rod was empty now, but the hymnal shelf  held  a sketch pad, some colored pencils, a deck of cards and several mystery novels.

“That's my stuff. Been here for two years and no one has ever noticed.“
“Hey, move back from the edge.  Someone will see you."

Beth had been unable to resist a peek at the room below. She tried to imagine it on a Sunday, when the congregation filled the pews. Skyla couldn't believe that Beth had never been in a church.

“My parents don't go. My father has never said why, but he doesn't say much anyway. My mother just gets a funny look on her face when anyone mentions church. Like she ate something bad. Once I heard her call church-goers a bunch of hypocrites.”

“Well, she's got something there. All that talk about loving your neighbor. The kids here have teased me for as long as I can remember. Just because I'm tall, skinny and wear these stupid glasses. The services aren't too bad though. I just think about something else while the pastor talks. The music  is my favorite part.  And refreshments after the services.   The food at these suppers is pretty good too. We'd better get back before we miss out.”

They filled their plates and found a spot under a big tree. Chatting between bites, they learned a little more about each other. Skyla was in fourth grade, just a year ahead of Beth. She was a good student too and dreamed of being a writer some day. Time passed quickly and soon Gran called. They parted reluctantly with a promise to find each other the next day in the school cafeteria.

Joined by several other members, they strolled down the quiet street enjoying the warm night and the light from the moon. Soon they were saying goodbyes and turning onto the path to Gran's cottage. Thick pine branches hung over the path, blocking the bright moonlight. Gran pulled a flashlight from her bag. Beth felt very adventurous going through the woods at night guided only by the small light. When the path emerged into the clearing, she became more aware of the night sky . Gran settled on a porch bench and pointed out some of the constellations. When Beth's eyes began to droop, she announced that it was time for bed. As reluctant as she was to leave the nighttime splendor, Beth was looking forward to sleeping in the loft. Soon she was snuggled in the cot, gazing at the stars through the skylight. As she surrendered to sleep, she had one last thought. “I wish I could stay here forever.”

The bus slowed and turned into the station. Anxious to be on their way, passengers quickly stood and competed for aisle space. Bethany remained seated, content to wait until the congestion cleared. She looked in her handbag and retrieved a letter with some directions on it. Exiting the bus, she began walking towards Redemption House. The halfway house was a short walk from the station. Beth had pictured a cozy old city home with a sloping lawn and large shade trees. But the warehouses and ancient office buildings never led to a residential area. Nothing had prepared her for the tall gray building whose barred door opened onto the sidewalk. No.  But a weathered sign next to the door proclaimed the occupants:  Kelley's Dry Storage, Barnard Water Systems, Redemption House.  Despite the building's height, each of the sparse narrow windows was streaked with the same bars as the door. Beth shuddered at the thought of being entombed in this cold, forbidding place. Even the prison had green grass and trees inside it's fences.

This was her only route to freedom. There was no other way. She paused for a moment, then opened the door.

Want to read more?   Check back next Saturday for the next installment.

Don't forget to head over to the Weekend Writers' Retreat to enjoy submissions from more authors.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Grandma's Lost

Anyone out there follow Lost?  It's a TV series where a few people survive a plane crash and live on an island.  Not just any island, but one with special magnetic properties that cause all kinds of strange things to happen.  A guy in a wheelchair survives the crash and walks.  Lots of dead people appear and  have chats with some of the survivors.  Rival groups who have inhabited the island before the crash fight for control of it. The survivors learn the history of the island when they are transported back and forth through time.  And when some of them finally get off the island and return home to the present time, what do they do?  Decide to relive the crash and do it all over again.

A bit surreal?  Talk about understatement.   Even as I give this recap, it sounds so weird that I wonder why I watch it.  Calico recorded the 2 hour opening episode that aired earlier this week.  Tonight we watched the first half.  Evidently time travel has become a bit boring.  Now the characters are living in two different time periods simultaneously.  What kind of strange people do they produce this show for?

Grandma waves hand enthusiastically and screams “Me!”


Thursday, February 4, 2010


Thursday Thirteen - Grandma isn't listless anymore

The best language courses go beyond textbook English and teach idioms as well. Even so, I've found that some of the most important ones are missing. Here is a list of common sayings and their translations:
  1. I don't mean to be rude, but . . ..
    Prepare to have your feelings hurt

  2. Thank you for being a valued customer.
    Prepare for a sales pitch.

  3. With a 90% chance of precipitation.
    It's going to rain

  4. With a 90 % chance of blue skies and sunshine
    It's going to rain

    Number 3 and 4 are particularly tricky.  In areas of extreme drought, they mean unremitting sunshine.

  5. I'm sure you'll have better luck next time.
    Come on. Spend your hard earned money on more lottery tickets.

  6. Left lane closed in 500 ft.
    The right lane will now be filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic that would rather wreck their car than let you merge.

  7. Time limited offer
    You will be listening to this ad for months

  8. Critic acclaimed movie
    Most of us will neither understand or like this one.

  9. Download for free.
    Be prepared to provide your credit card information.

  10. Even a child can do it.
    Only a child can do it.

  11. Easy to learn. Simple to operate.
    Not even a child can do it.

  12. Get out of debt forever.
    Give me money you can't afford to part with.

  13. That dress is really you!
    I work almost totally on commission

I hope you've found this list helpful. Because you are a valued customer, Grandma would like to make this time-limited offer to download more translations for free. They are so easy to learn that even a child can do it. Order in the next minute and I'll also provide free information on how to get out of debt forever. Does that sound good? Had I mentioned that there's a 99% chance of sunshine tomorrow?

Grandma is delighted to be a participant in the Thursday Thirteen meme. You should check it out.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Talking To The Wall

I began blogging last December, so I'm pretty new at it. Most days I enjoy it, but I can't say that I'm immune to caring about the number of comments that I receive. Blogging without comments is like talking to a wall, a person playing a virtual game or a sports fan watching the big game. After a while, it feels very futile. Most days, I see enough comments to assure me that someone is listening. But sometimes, I really want more.

Here's a list of 3 posts that I wish had more comments. Come on, take a look. It will make my day.

1.The first installment of my novel, Convictions.
If you like it, there's more.

2.The Best of Times
It's a Christmas story that has a lot of meaning in difficult economic times. Christmas may be gone, but I hope this warms your heart.

3.Stop Thief
A humorous, but true, confession of how little things come back to haunt you.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Convictions - Index

I thought it was time to get a bit of organization. Links to the current installments follow. I'll be adding new links as the installments are released. Hopefully, it will make for easier reading.

1. Released

2. Rick

3. Treasure

4. Church

5. Redemption House

6. Beginning

7. Parole

8. Radar

9. No Big Deal

10. Annie and Jake

11. Secrets

12. Wanting More

13. Searching

14. Employment

15. Friends

16. Romance

17. Fear