Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Can a nobody write a serious book?

My current work in progress is a nonfiction reference book on rare genetic diseases. You can scroll down a bit to read about it.  I've gotten some feedback from folks who "don't want to discourage me" but who warn me that without being a doctor or some specialist I don't have a chance of this book taking off.  I beg to differ.

It's very easy these days for celebrities to get a book published.  They bring with them name recognition so that even if they are writing something off the topic of their own celebrity, people will still buy their book.  Hence the proliferation of children's books and how-to books by celebrities. And I acknowledge that having a name helps sell books.  I also understand that medical books need the gravitas that specialists in the field provide.

The problem is that no one - no celebrity and no medical specialist - is writing this book. There is no book.  There are numerous academic papers written by very credible scientists and doctors.  But there is no book.  There is information online, but a lot of it is old and invalidated by more recent research. What is needed is a kind of manual for families and quick reference for front-line doctors.

Do I believe this will be easy?  No.  I've been a writer all my life and I understand the kind of research and hard work this demands. I know such a work is needed and I know I am up to the task.  So to those who tell me it cannot be done, I say, watch me do it!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The things we do for love

I really hate asking people to do things for me.  I'd rather walk through weeds or pay someone than ask someone to cut my grass, for example.  But there comes a time when one must ask for help and this is one of those times.  So here goes:

Today I am launching what is for me a labor of love and I am asking for your help. As many of you know, my beautiful grandson was born with a rare genetic disorder. A private FB group is currently the only support for families such as mine. Every day these parents go online looking for answers from other families. Every day I read about how little is known, how ignorant many doctors are about this, and now and then about a child who has died.
I decided to do something.
am writing a book to be used by both doctors and the families of those affected. It will include the latest research, list doctors and medical centers with experience in this, and provide a wealth of wisdom from the parents themselves. No such reference currently exists. It is an ambitious work and I need a publisher if I am to get this into the hands of front-line pediatricians and general practitioners, who typically have no experience with FODs. Publishizer allows me to offer the book for pre-sale and if I get sufficient pre-orders of the book, publishers will take notice.
So, I want you to order a book I haven't written yet that you don't need. My suggestion is that you order it and allow me to give it to one of the families affected. These families struggle not only with the emotional burden of having a sick child but also with the added expenses of seeing genetic specialists, travel to do so, special formulas, repeated hospitalizations, and other expenses. Of course, if you want it for yourself, I will be happy to send it to you.
You can read my book proposal here and place your order. I have 45 days to sell 250 copies minimum. I would like to pre-sell 1,000. So, please, if I have touched your life in any way, order my book and share this post. If you know me, you know I will do a great job. Thank you.
Publishizer link:…/

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Hands, My Tools

All my life I have enjoyed extraordinary health.  Sure, I get the occasional sinus infection, cold, virus, etc.  but I have arrived at the age of 64 without having to battle cancer, heart disease, or any of the other serious diseases so many people battle, even at half my age.  I have two friends with autoimmune diseases, one of my brothers had lung cancer, another died of a stroke.

The bane of my existence is simple repetitive stress injuries.  You name it; I've got it.  Plantar fasciitis, check.  Bursitis, check.  Carpal tunnel, check. Cervical stenosis, check.  Now I can add to the list Cubital tunnel compression.  Most people have never heard of it but if you think of hitting your "funny bone" really hard, that's the nerve I'm talking about.  The nerve that sings when you strike your elbow extends both up and down the arm.  In my case, it has made it difficult for me to do simple things: type, turn keys and faucets, open jars, that kind of thing.  It also means I can't do pottery, which bums me out.

My options are limited.  I can have a painful surgery with an uncertain outcome or I suck it up.  So far with all my minor afflictions I have sucked up the alternatives: limiting myself, doing things differently, avoiding triggers, special shoes, exercises, etc.  But I just can't do without my right hand. I may have to have this surgery and rely on my extraordinary health to get me through to normal function again. For now I'm glad to have had a steroid shot right into the nerve - yes, it was as much fun as it sounds - but it has helped.  I know from past experience in other parts of my body that this relief won't last long, but I'll take it - for now.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Is Grammar Obsolete?

I belong to several writers' groups. In nearly all of them a debate simmers below the surface: Does grammar matter?
The Pros' argument goes along these lines:  Of course it matters.  It's part of the craft.  Punctuation changes the meaning of sentences.  Poor spelling and improper word use stops a reader from becoming engrossed in the story.
The Cons' argument follows this tact: It doesn't matter if you use the wrong to or your.  The reader will figure it out.  Grammar Nazis are just snobby.  Grammer is obsolete.  I write and speak just fine, thank you very much.
So I culled some examples of error from a few different sources, including, but not limited to some of these writing groups.  This is just a casual culling from one afternoon.  I am not attributing anything so as not to embarrass and have changed any identifying words for the same reason.  I have left the errors exactly as they appeared.
  • They were to philosophy what an American Team were to ...
  • Your allowed
  • Don't move to quick
  • The human brian
  • Math lab busted
  • It has always bothered me the idea ...
  • If a man needs rewarded ...
  • Kindness is it's own reward
  • For each and every authors ...
  • It is a fantastic story how a woman falls in love when she less expect and he can’t let his ex-girlfriend go, they try to resist to find and accept that they are made for each other. 
  • There is a mystery involving them, they don’t understand why they keep running into each other, but they are determined to find out. 
  • Our black hairs blues eyes grandbaby is here.
Ok, so by the examples above, not unusual, or chosen for being especially bad, what do you think?  I think we need to pay a little more attention to communicating what we actually mean.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Birth Day

On this day in 1979 I gave birth to my second daughter, Nicole.  Birth is a truly profound event that gets lost in how ordinary and commonplace it is.  Bringing a totally new human into the world, one that is totally dependent and needs years to grow into being able to care for him or herself is no small thing. Birth has a way of reordering priorities, refocusing perspectives and distilling love. The primal act of birth reduces us to quivering, tearful, yet fierce guardians.

As individuals, we have many birthdays. We celebrate with presents and cake. We dismiss them as they mark just another year in our journey.  But as mothers, we have but one or a few.  The birth of each of our children changes us.  The time after these births is different from all the time before.  So while today is Nicole's birthday, it is also a birth day for me.  I remember the event, the years since, the sweetness and the milestones we've shared.  And, as is the way of humankind, she has this month, not only a birthday, but a birth day herself.  Her son, my grandson, made her a mother last year.

Not every birth ends well.  It is the risk we take as mothers.  It is the risk Life demands.  I gave birth three times but celebrate just two of them. I like to think that the other child rebounded with life to another mother and another birth day.  Birth is profound.  Life is what matters. I have done nothing more imporant with my life than this.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dying by degrees

My mother lived with me in her final years.  She died at age 97.  One day she complained that she was cold, "I'm dying by degrees," she quipped.  I know what she means.  I'm not cold - far from it - it's 90 degrees in the shade without a breeze anywhere, but sometimes I feel like I have to cede yet another body part to old age.

For weeks I've had pain in my neck due to a pinched nerve.  It's affected my writing as my hands are weak and painful.  I've had a good massage and that has helped, but the problem never really goes away.  Then there's my hip and knee.  Good grief.  Complaining doesn't help, but it does bring a kind of visceral empathy for others.

I really can't complain: I have no chronic disease, no cancer, no heart issues, no liver or autoimmune things going on.  I just hurt.  And I guess that means I'm still alive.

So, I think I'll go glaze some pots and maybe later I can write a bit.  At least I can read.  And that not nothing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homeschool begins

My granddaughter did not flourish in the public school classroom when she attended first grade. The clamor of 20-30 students and the constant threats and discipline from the teachers made her very anxious.  So her parents made the decision to homeschool her and I have taken over about half of that effort. This is in no way a religious or political statement. It is simply a matter of providing the best early education for my granddaughter that we can.

As a professional writer, I am well-qualified to teach Language Arts and as a potter of many years, my experience also qualifies me to teach her arts and crafts.  Those are the areas I focus on for her, but I also teach her some social studies including history, civics, and geography.  Her parents focus on math and science.  I provide some projects in these subjects as well.

Last year was third grade for her and tomorrow we begin fourth grade.  Her parents and I have decided on project-based learning on a six-weeks-on, two-weeks-off schedule.  What this will do is allow us to structure her studies around specific, relevant content that can be experienced in context rather than around a purchased curriculum.

My granddaughter is smart and self-motivated but has anxiety issues about her performance. She aced the end-of-year tests the state requires and she is proud of that.  She always wants to stick to the easy stuff, the stuff she knows well and can excel at.  My job is to make her crave more.

For her first six weeks in language arts I am assigning her a poetry project.  Each week we will study two forms of poetry and she will write two poems in each form. My goals for her in this is for her to understand the role of all the parts of speech, which she learned last year.  As poetry requires a brevity that necessitates the use of only the most perfect words to convey a thought, this will enhance her use of grammar, her understanding of the power inherent in words, as well as giving her a decent background in literature.  I will be assigning her specific poems to read so that we can discuss them, but I will also require her to read fiction as a background.  Last year she completed the Harry Potter books and has since re-read them.

She will watch the Netflix Egypt series to accompany her study packet on that and will also study Canada in some depth as her father is Canadian and she visits the country often.  I will use Netflix and PBS to enhance her studies at home.

The project she has voiced enthusiasm for is another craft-based sales booth.  The child has business in her blood, I think, and she really enjoyed the booth we had at the end of last school year.  This is a project I am letting her self-direct and I will provide the necessary resources and guidance.

I am pleased I can help my granddaughter develop a useful set of skills to navigate this life.  And I am humbled her parents trust me with her.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Playing the hand you are dealt

I have two wonderful, absolutely normal children and I have four grandchildren: two girls and two boys.  The last one was born with a rare genetic disorder that will affect him for the rest of his life.  It is serious.

I read a lot of blogs and articles by other families with special needs children.  Most of them show some encounter with someone "normal" who unwittingly acts in an unsympathetic manner toward the affected family.  Some point out the "blessing" these kids are to the family.  Others plead for understanding that most of their lives are just as "normal" as unaffected families.  At the heart of all of them is a family in pain that is coping as well as they can.

My daughter is dealing with a life-changing child. He is medically fragile.  Common illnesses are life-threatening.  He requires round-the-clock feedings.  It is exhausting.

We all have to play the hand we are dealt.  I do not believe some god is sending defective children to families because it will be a blessing.  I do not believe a child with issues is any less or any more a family member, or any more or less deserving of love and attention, than any other child.  Life gives us challenges and my daughter and grandson face significant ones.  With love and support, they will meet these challenges and be the best people they can be.

There will be people who do not understand, who think my daughter is picky or unreasonable.  There will be those who think my grandson should outgrow his problem.  His disorder involves an inability to process most fatty acids, which severely affects his diet and his ability to expend energy. People are funny about food.  They feel defensive about it. They hate picky eaters. For most kids, a hot dog and fries are a treat; for my grandson it is slow death.  We will all just have to live with this and all it involves.

Strangers will not understand.  People will try to feed him things he should not have thinking it can't be that bad for him. He will want to eat those things and during his childhood will not understand why he cannot have them.  My daughter will never cease to worry about him. I will never cease to worry about her.  This is our life now.

My grandson is a super-cute little guy and we all love him dearly.  We would have loved him had he been born without this disorder.  It makes no difference. We are up to this.  We have to be.  It does not matter to me if strangers don't understand.  They have their own hands to play.  Perhaps that woman who seemed uncaring has a husband with cancer at home, or elderly parents she can't afford to care for.  I don't know what others are dealing with any more than they know what my grandson has or what it means.

We should be charitable to all.  No matter what you have to deal with, act like the person you just met has twice that on his or her plate.  For they may.  For me, I am happy to love all my grandchildren, relieve my daughter a few times a week, and carry on.  I don't need to change anyone's behavior but my own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bucket List Item

I don't usually post in this space about my pottery, preferring to leave that to my pottery blog, Forrest Pottery.  However, I just finished a full set of dishes and it's kind of a milestone for me.  You see, when I was 19 I decided I wanted to make a set of dinnerware.  I thought, with all of youth's hubris, that I could do so in a single month.  Life intervened and except for brief classes here and there, I set pottery aside in favor of my family and job.

In 2000, my best friend died from a fall down the stairs of her retirement home.  She had only been there a matter of weeks.  When I visited her family they showed me that she had never even unpacked the boxes of craft materials she had been saving for her retirement.  After much grief and tears, I decided that I would not arrive at my retirement or death without doing the one thing I had always wanted to do: pottery.  I built my studio that same year.

I continued to work until I was laid off just short of retirement age.  What a mixed bag that was for me!  On the one hand, I lost my career, my health insurance, and my retirement pension.  What I gained was the ability to care for my mother in her last few years and the opportunity to finally study and master my craft.  I did both.

Yesterday I took the final load of dishes from my kiln.  These will not be for me, but for my daughter.  I feel like I've come full circle.  I did finish the set in a summer, just 45 years later! I'm mostly pleased with them and I know my daughter will like them.  All the determination and passion of my youth and all the skill I gained since then went into those dishes.

This is what satisfaction looks like.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tilting Left?

With marriage equality now the law of the land, the ACA firmly supported in the Court, and the Confederate flag coming down, could it possibly be that the nation is finally taking a turn toward sanity, toward the left?  If so, it's about time.

Consider equality.  Just the word.  Who hates that?  How is this religious persecution?  We are a secular nation with many of different religions and some of no religion.  In order for all to have the freedom to worship - or not - as they see fit, we must remain secular in law.  This is a win-win, not a loss for people of any god.

And if the emblem of your proud history is also the emblem of another's degradation, is it not imperative to relegate the emblem to its place in history?  Can one not be proud of the selfless sacrifice and bravery shown on the battlefield of individuals without flying the flag of a lost cause? Did not the common German soldier also fight bravely in support of his country?  That does not remove the bile from the mouth on seeing the Nazi emblem.  Let us move on.

I have lived all my life in this country and I love it so I hope we can always find middle ground to lay a path forward for every citizen.  I hope we are big enough to continue to welcome immigrants, as my grandparents once were.  I hope we find our way toward healthcare for all. I hope we can get the politicians out of our bedrooms and allow doctors to practice medicine as their patients require. I hope my granddaughters will never face the discrimination leveled at my generation.  Most of all I hope we can see that hate helps no one, that diversity enriches us all, and that this nation must serve us all, not just the wealthiest.

Today I am proud to be American.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


The Supreme Court just ruled that I can keep my health insurance.  Actually, the ruling affects other people, too, but I've been viewing this through a very personal lens. You see, when I was laid off in 2005 I went without health insurance for years until the ACA made it available to me.  As a woman in her late 50s, I was considered uninsurable during a time of life when many people find serious health issues.  I was lucky; I did not, but I lived in fear.

Today I am partially retired, working part-time as a consultant.  Without the ACA I would be unable to afford insurance.  Yes, I am one of those people who receive a subsidy.  I am unapologetic about it.  During the years no one would insure me I broke my foot.  The hospital x-rayed me and put my foot in a boot but would not treat me further - even though I gave them my credit card for any expenses.  They said they "were not accepting new patients" but I finally got someone to be a little more specific:  she said "We are not accepting uninsured patients."  This from a medical college hospital! So I paid out-of-pocket for an orthopedist associated with a different hospital to examine me, take more x-rays and determine that I did not, in fact, require surgery.

Most people think that the uninsured can just go to the emergency room and get "free" care.  Not so. The emergency room cannot turn you away, but all they have to do is stabilize you and refer you for care.  They do, in fact, charge you, probably more than they charge insurance companies, and if you do not pay, they can legally take action against you.  And the referral they give you may well be useless unless you have insurance. And if you go to an emergency room and discover a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease, the hospital does not have to treat you.

If you are OK with that then I want you to consider how you would feel if your parents, or your friends found themselves in this position?  Don't think it can happen?  In the last recession nearly 10% of our population was unemployed.  People like me who had worked for years, for decades, many at one job, found themselves out of work and out of insurance at a time when no one was hiring.  People get sick.  Accidents happen.  Health care is not a luxury.

The ACA is far from perfect but it is a lifeline for many and I, for one, am glad to have it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lost in the South

So, there's been another mass shooting.  This time some fine black folks were mowed down in church of all places.  It's too much.  It was too much when all those second graders were shot in New Town. Too much blood.  Too much insanity.  Too much hate.  And, very likely, too many guns.

I live in Georgia and I've been in the South for 30 years. As a natural born Yankee, I never gave much thought to the Civil War until I moved here.  I never knew how deep those wounds ran here in the South.  I never realized that people here are proud of their efforts back then to leave the Union. There are still those who would secede today, given the opportunity.  I've gotten used to it, though I do not agree with this feeling.

The United States is one country, North and South, East and West, black and white.  We have our problems, but guns are not the answer.  They were not the answer during the Civil War and they are not the answer now.  Can we not agree to give guns the same kind of oversight we give vehicles? We not only register them, but we test for skills, we fine infractions, and we revoke licenses for the worst offenders. We even require insurance so that if someone is hurt, they can be compensated.  I understand that illegal guns can be gotten but we make that so easy.  It should be made more difficult.

If you must have a gun, why would you object to the same regulations as on your car?  I just don't get it.  The government isn't coming for your guns unless you do something irresponsible or criminal with them.

If one cannot see; one cannot drive.  So I think it follows that if one is unstable, mentally, one should not own a gun.  And if one has a history of violence, why allow them a gun?  And really, does anyone need an automatic assault rifle?  Can we not use common sense?  Apparently not.

Take down the flag.  It was treasonous before and is widely regarded as a symbol of racial hate now.  One can be proud of the fact that one's relatives stood up for what they believed in without perpetuating the problem into new generations.

Let us vote for candidates that support gun control.  No one will come for your guns unless you use them against others or become incapacitated. Enough blood has been spilled.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The correlation between anger and poverty

There have been many news stories recently about violence against mostly poor, black people by mostly white police officers.  This has been widely seen as having a large racial component.  I tend to agree but believe economics may run even deeper.

The tension between the haves and the have-nots is well documented at the highest levels.  The headlines in every newspaper and television newscast include daily reports on "the 1%" and how cutting some program designed to benefit poor people needs to be done in order to save the economy while cutting taxes for the rich is seen as having the well-known, if debunked, "trickle-down" effect.

In a society where money is power - and this is certainly such a society - then the absence of money equals powerlessness.  Nothing is more likely to engender despair or anger than that. So, when a young black girl who perhaps has no access to a cool pool on a hot day is ordered off the premises by a white cop, perhaps, she mutters in anger.  His position, which if we are honest, is not far above hers, is to strike out, not only in anger but also as a defense of his precarious position.

I know a little of poverty and a bit about anger.  I am not so presumptuous to think that my own reactions to things are universal but neither do I believe myself unusual.  I think the denial of power to the poor is at the root of even our racial divide.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Life Happens

Someone once said that life is what happens when we make other plans.  Each moment of life is one we can never get back.  The older I get the more I appreciate this.  That is why I was so steamed when I found out today that the package I waited for all day yesterday, would not be here for another three days.

Mind you, it is not that the package is needed immediately.  It is not.  It is the fact that I spent a precious day monitoring my front door for a package I was assured would be here by 8 p.m. only to find out a day later that the original estimate was, to say the least, overly optimistic. And now I get to do it all again on Monday!

Fortunately, I know how to use my time at home wisely.  I got a little work done, wrote some emails, read a little.  I did my errands today.  Life happens.  Packages are late.  Plans go awry. There is something uncontrollable about it.  But I am grateful for each moment, even the aggravating ones!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to write a novel

There are many ways to write a novel. I don't recommend the way I did it!

I wrote the dang thing in a month, just to see if I could.  NaNoWriMo is an annual contest of sorts that encourages would-be novelists to write 50,000 words in one month.  So I did.  What I wound up with was a disjointed story in several viewpoints with backstories written last.  It was a mess.  I have since worked hard on it, incorporating the backstories, making good separations, tying up the loose ends and refining it.  It's not been easy and I have had help.

At first I just put the non-novel away, thinking it was a good exercise but not worth the work to fix it up.  About a year later, I read it again and thought maybe it was worth the work.  If nothing else, I now know a whole lot more about the entire process for this exercise.  And, I have decided to publish it - just because I can.

Is it the great American novel?  Well, it is American at its core as the storyline deals with an immigrant family's journey through several generations.  Unlike most blockbusters though, this story deals with real people, not millionaires or celebrities.

My next novel will be planned, outlined, written to a structure and from a single point of view.  Not because it will be better, though I hope it will, but because it is more efficient to write that way.  I've written my whole professional life and found the entire experience of writing a novel fascinating because it was one area new to me.

It's out to an editor now for a final proof.  When uploaded, I'll put a link here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Thoughts on Memorial Day

When I was in high school in the 1960s, many of my male classmates were drafted or volunteered and went to Vietnam.  Some of them did not return.  One was literally the boy next door. He lived with his ancient grandmother because his parents were both dead.  His name was Ronnie. He was tall, handsome, blonde and smart.  He was a senior when I was a freshman and as kind to an awkward young girl as he could be.  He came home in his Marine dress uniform before being deployed to Vietnam. I was in love.  

My brother also served during that war.  He came home, but Ronnie did not.  His grandmother did not live long after his death.  Both were victims of that war. 

Many remember this time in simplistic terms: one was either patriotic and for the war or some kind of wide-eyed radical who spit on servicemen when they returned.  I was there and was neither.  I wished the war had not happened, that we had never gotten involved in it.  I wished more people had refused to go to war but I also respected the decisions of those who did.  And I mourned the deaths of each of my friends because I felt that though their deaths were a waste, they were also honorable men who acted out of their best nature.

I am part of an organization that helps veterans and transitioning service members. Last week we held our annual symposium and listening to our speakers I again reflected on the cost of war: on individuals and on our society.  War is not intrinsically patriotic.  I still believe we should question authority, investigate non-military options, and enter conflicts with great consideration.  It is not patriotism to support error.  It is patriotic to do what is right, popular or not.  And what is right is to take care of all our service members when they return.  Because regardless of whether the conflict is right or wrong, their sacrifice is real and noble. 

Supporting veterans means more than sporting a bumper sticker; it means hiring vets, housing vets, getting them health care and more.  And on Memorial Day, as we remember our war dead, let us honor them by considering carefully how freely we spill the blood of their brothers.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Lasts

My grandmother lived on the opposite side of the city from my family but every Sunday, we would walk to her house.  And every Sunday we would walk home laden with food from her kitchen or flowers from her garden. A tiny immigrant woman, widowed young, with no education or English, my grandmother would reach into a sock she kept in a kitchen cabinet and pull out a quarter for me. She grew wheat in her little garden so I would know where bread came from.

Her daughter, my mother, was the eldest of seven children. I am her youngest child and only daughter. She completed the eighth grade and quit school to help support the family. She raised three boys and me, was also widowed young, and lived until she was nearly 100.  

In my turn, I married and had two daughters, both of whom are now mothers also. From this vantage point in life, I think I have a better understanding of immortality than any philosopher or theologian. For in my daughters, I see all the love that was poured into me by my mother and grandmother now being lavished on my grandchildren.

Of my four grandchildren, the youngest presents my daughter with daily challenges.  He has a rare genetic disorder and must be fed small amounts very frequently.  Common infant episodes of spitting up or fevers are for him, life threatening. Though I saw in this daughter admirable mothering skills with her older two children, both healthy girls, I stand in awe of her ability to face each day though exhausted, with hope and great love.  Her children are well adjusted and well behaved.  She has sacrificed more than the casual observer will ever know for her family. Her beautiful brown hair is flecked with grey and her eyes are deeply lined.  

My other daughter, too, has a son.  She is a modern woman with a career and I see her struggle to find balance and somehow she always does.  In both daughters I see my own mother and grandmother reflected.  I see it in their hands as they brush back a stray lock of hair from their child, or in the care they take as they chop favorite foods into bite-size bits for their little ones.  I see my own mothering improved in them.  And I suspect that could I go back to my grandmother's mother or to her grandmother, I would see the same love and care and willingness to do without as I see in my daughters.  

My grandmother is gone more than 50 years now and my mother almost eight years but the very best of them lives on in my daughters and will continue in their children for generations to come. Love outlasts death.  Love lasts.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Why most people get self-esteem all wrong

Self-esteem is one topic sure to set people off.  In one camp are those who think we should praise people so as not to damage their fragile self-esteem.  In the other are those who think self-esteem is some kind of psychobabble for people who are simply full of themselves.  Both camps are wrong.

The word, itself, gives one a clue as to what it really is.  Self-esteem, by definition, cannot be bestowed upon another.  It is, in fact, how we regard ourselves.  And if that is true, we cannot bolster our children's self-esteem with praise.  However, what we can do is see to it that they become competent human beings and are able to self-assess.

How does one raise a competent human being?  Praise has little to do with it and put-downs nothing at all.  Parents who want to raise competent people need to make sure their little ones know stuff. They start small, so their competencies should start small.  Let your toddler dress him or herself.  Let them drag a stool to the sink to brush their own teeth.  When they master the zipper or buttons, let them show you how competent they have become.  As they grow, you will continue to teach - and to demand independence and excellence.  In this way, they will become competent.

When people drive cars, sit at their desks at work, or express themselves through a hobby or sport, they feel their competence, or its lack.  They esteem themselves as competent at their jobs or their pastimes.  Granted, some people never learn to measure themselves accurately.  But self-esteem is nothing more that one's measure of one's self, whether done well or not.

Self-esteem cannot be given.  And it is not something to be derided.  Competence and knowing one's self is all there is to it.  You want kids with good self-esteem? Let them be wrong sometimes.  Then show them how to correct themselves.  Let them know that you expect them to become competent; don't praise them for nothing.  The former communicates to them that they are capable of more; the latter that self-delusion is OK.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


I'm new to homeschooling.  I was happy to send my two girls off to school as soon as they were old enough.  But my older girl is of a different mind.  She wants her children homeschooled.  Enter Granbean.

Last year I played a small part in teaching 2nd-grade art and language arts to my granbeanie, as I call her.  This year, I've taken a more active role because my daughter had a baby late last year with a challenging disorder and I've wanted to take some of the work off her very tired shoulders. So it was time for me to figure out what we were doing in 3rd grade.

Let's face it, it's been a while for me since 3rd grade!  So I looked up what she was required to learn and I made a plan.

My student is smart but likes to do easy things so I made her first semester hard.  I told her she had to learn to type and to throw a pot on the potters wheel.  Both are challenging tasks for an eight-year-old.  She made it up to 15 words a minute and managed a fairly respectable pot.  The lesson wasn't so much for the actual skills involved as it was for the message I wanted to hammer home: you can do hard things!

In her second semester, she made a variety of crafts, including handbuilt pottery, knitting, and rock tumbling. She wanted to have a crafts booth and I said she could, but she would have to take part in all aspects of it - not just the production of crafts.  She made a paper spreadsheet of all her items, figured out what to charge, projected out the costs and revenues and made a stab at projecting her profit.  She arranged her display.  She helped set up at the venue.  And she greeted potential customers like a pro, dazzling them with the story of how she learned the crafts and why she wanted a booth.

She decided to share the profits with me.  I encouraged her to donate to some cause, but she told me she had worked "THREE months" on the booth and would be keeping the money.  I donated all of mine to FOD, the group that supports research on and families with fatty acid oxidation disorders, which is what afflicts her brother.  I don't take money from kids but in this case I think it helped her understand that the ability to give may be the most satisfying part of success.

She did great.  She sold a lot, but she also learned a lot.  She is anxious to do it again.  I've challenged her to master wheel work for her next outing.  After all, 4th grade is coming right up!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Myth of Writer’s Block

I often hear the phrase, “writing in my head,” by which a person means that he is having ideas for something to be written later.  I think we all do this.  What separates writers from others with ideas is that we write them down.  Not only do we write them down, but we have the skill – the craft we call writing – to breathe life into those ideas and make them live on the page.  This is where many get stuck and gives rise to the myth of so-called “writer’s block.”

No one who has written in any capacity would deny that there are times when we are stuck.  We wonder what our character should do next, what the precise word should be, if we should insert a flash-back, etc.  However, that is simply part of the work of writing. Fear of the blank page, or of failing, or of offending someone is something else entirely.  That would fall under some psychological heading that would make for a totally separate post.   If one gets stuck when writing, it is a crisis of craft, not of psychology.

No doubt there are times when we need caffeine or food or we need to stretch our legs or clear our minds, but if one is what is commonly referred to as “blocked,” one must consider what the cause is. There is no such thing that exists outside ourselves as writer’s block.  That is, being stuck or blocked is not like catching a cold or getting cancer.  Something is going on, or more likely, not going on in our minds.

Let’s consider what writing actually is: at its heart it is communication, but at its soul it is transport into another time, another life, another place.  Both take skill.  It takes more than just writing down an idea.  Many avid readers get ideas from reading their favorite novels.  They might think, “What if the vampire is really a mermaid gone rogue after coming ashore?”  So they write that idea down.  That is not writing.  That is merely an idea on paper.  If it is never expanded, if the vampire/mermaid never becomes real to the reader by virtue of a personality, a backstory, quirks, even endearing qualities, then it remains an idea.  One idea does not a story make.  Serial ideas do not a story make.  Characterization, plot, and motives all make a story.

So, then, what is – or is not – going on in the mind of a writer who is blocked?  A lot of writers trip on their own story lines.  They write themselves into corners.  They lose the thread of the story in the subplot or they forget the character they left in a well somewhere.  And so they claim a block.  The solution for this is nothing short of writing, or rewriting to be precise.  Toss out the plot twist you loved so much that created an untenable situation or create a logical way out.  Work at it!  Sit in your chair and write your way out!  It really is that simple and that difficult.  When the writing gets hard, writers write.

Granted, sometimes when this happens a break is in order but a break is not a block.  One still must attack the problem itself whether it is too many red herrings, an odd tense change, or voice shift. Sometimes all that is needed is to re-read the work.  As a reader we spot things that as writers, we miss.  Then get to work: write.

If the problem is not what one has already written, but what one has not yet written, one must consider why.  If a writer has no ideas it could be burn out on the project itself.  Many authors have stated they got tired of always writing the same character doing the same things.  In Misery we see a fictional author suffer for killing off a favored character for this reason.  If this is the case we have to bravely scrap the project and just move on and write.

However, the problem may be as simple as not wanting to write.  The internet beckons; it’s basketball season; the kids need something.  There are always distractions and good reasons not to write. Those of us who are writers, write.  We write when we’re ill, when the kids are ill, when our mothers die, when we’re bored to tears.  We write when the sun shines and the pool is inviting.  We write.  Not wanting to write is fine.  It is more than fine.  It is normal.  But if you don’t write you don’t have writer’s block; you might want to consider another line of work or creative outlet. 

Writers write.  Some of us do it because it is our work.  It is how we get paid.  We have deadlines.  Others do it because they are driven to write.  Some hate to write but do it anyway.  But writers write.  It is that simple.  If you feel stuck; don’t cling to writer’s block.  Write.    Unlike a dancer with a broken leg, writers with writer’s block have total control over whatever has them stymied.  All they have to do is write. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Project Love

The craft project I've been using to teach my granddaughter crafts, math, English, business, and some other more elusive skills such as problem-solving, organization, thinking ahead, and even empathy, is all over but the sale itself.  The car is packed and ready and the granbeanie herself will sleep at my house tomorrow night because we have an early start on Saturday.

I feel pretty good about it.  Her craftsmanship has improved, even if she did not completely master wheel throwing.  That can take time!  She understands how to use all four arithmetic operations in real-life situations. She's written extensively about the project and has mastered paragraph construction, complex sentences, the proper use of clauses, which preposition to choose and how to punctuate.  She understands the concepts of costs, revenues, profits, loss, and philanthropy.  I think that's rather a lot for a 9-year-old!

She's is excited about Saturday and it promises to be a sunny day.  Fingers crossed! This has been a lot of work for me but I keep thinking that long after my granbeanie is grown and I am long gone, she will remember everything I have taught her with all the love I have put into it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Brave New World

Like most people these days I belong to a number of groups online.  I have several pottery groups where we exchange information, ask for help, and so forth.  There are a couple of writing groups that do basically the same thing.  And then there's a group or two of virtual friends I've picked up along the way here and there.  I find these groups helpful, amusing, sometimes a little nuts and I always try to add whatever I can to the conversation to be helpful.

That's why I was so surprised to find myself at the center of a personal attack over the weekend when I expressed my opinion, in response to a post, that I believe writer's block exists only in our heads.  It is not a thing of itself and we do ourselves no favors by believing that if one is a writer, then this disorder exists outside of our control and can derail us indefinately.   No need for details here but no matter what I said to this one young girl, who took it very personally, she insisted that I was calling her a bad writer.  I wished her well and ended the conversation but it got me to thinking.

A few days before this, on another site, someone broke in and posted a pornographic image, for the second time in a week.  Thinking I was alerting the admins to it, I posted, "Where are the admins?" There are several and they piled on me saying I could have deleted the post and that are volunteers who don't work 24/7.  I said I had deleted it from my timeline but thought they would want to know. I was being very concilitory, but they seemed to feel very put out and just repeated that they don't work 24/7.

Ah, this brave new world where our every word is black and white and no soft voice or body language helps indicate our meaning.  I have to think, though, that perhaps our virtual reality has given us thin skins.  Are we all so coddled that an opposing opinion provokes such defensiveness? Personally, I choose to engage with people, mostly of like mind, but also with differing opinions. I try to take nothing personally, even when my name is attached it, because I know when one speaks in anger or frustration, it is usually a reflection of something happening in that person's life and has nothing to do with me.

So, I hope everyone has a lovely day without drama and tries to be as helpful as possible to our fellow travelers as we all journey forth.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I'm about halfway through the final edit of my novel.  It's been alternately grueling and engrossing.  It got me thinking about how difficult it is to edit not just one's own work, but also one's self.

Few of us are totally at ease with everything about ourselves.  I think I am more so than most, but I have been stymied in a few areas, one is exercise.  It's not that I hate it or don't want to do it; it's just that the relatively minor things wrong with my body result in more pain and possible damage with exercise.

So how do I edit this?  Walking, running and other exercises that require footwork is out due to a heel spur.  More than a mile or two and I have raging inflammation that I cannot treat with anti-inflammatories due to the lack of a kidney.  Weights are also out due to stenosis in my neck and even something like yoga or some other class is impossible because I am prone to vertigo with changes in position or sudden movements.

Yet as I age, I know I need to solve this riddle.  I have tried just sucking it up and exercising anyway only to find myself unable to walk, or with nerve pain and numbness, or nauseated.  I've asked my doctor, physical therapists, and personal trainers.  I've tried alternating exercises, just doing a little, and doing it just a few times a week.

I know there are some problems without solutions and this may be one of them.  Sometimes I think I am fortunate to have arrived at this age without major health issues but this array of minor issues has created this frustrating problem for me.  And that could result in major issues, such as weight gain, heart issues and high blood pressure.

So I go back to my book and edit what I can.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Doing the hard stuff

When I started teaching my granbeanie she was in the second grade and my lessons were hit and miss.  I was still working a job and didn't have much time.  This year, her third grade, we've done much better.  I thought about this child, how smart she is and how unwilling she is to fail, and as a consequence of that, how unwilling she is to try new and difficult things. So I set about two tasks for her first half of the year: She would type every day and she would learn to actually throw a pot on the potter's wheel.  My goal was not so much for her to become a speedy typist or a practicing potter, but to teach her that with repeated practice and work she can do hard things.

In the second half of the year, I let both these go in order to teach her the more usual things a third-grader must learn: long division, sentence structure, American history, spelling.  I tried to put things in context for her and it struck me that she needed a project that would tie together many of the things she has learned.

She decided on having a crafts booth at our local farmers market.  At first she wanted to knit things for it.  So I showed her how to knit.  I encouraged her to use what we already own, to cut down on the costs of production.  She made some slab pots and painted rocks.  We made some potholders. She made bracelets and charms.  We even have a hamburger paperweight!

What did she learn? How did I teach?

She learned that one has to have capital or existing resources to begin an entrepreneurial project. She learned that the first money earned goes toward paying expenses and that profit begins when expenses are repaid.  She learned that craftsmanship matters. She learned to produce stuff efficiently. She has learned that one must provide a variety of items at different price points.  She has learned to price her work by a) what she has in it (materials, time, skill) and b) by what the market will bear. She also learned how to write out a spreadsheet with costs and projected income.  She knows the break-even point.  The most important thing she has learned is that all of this is within her power to control.  Simply put, that she can do this.

I taught her some craft skills, a little math and how to round numbers and perform calculations in her head, a little about business, a little about marketing, and a bit about English.  I made her write at every stage of this project about what we were doing.  I had a silent laugh when I read her final essay where she said, "Knitting takes too long!"

Now, here's what I learned:  That I could homeschool this child, so precious to me.  I learned I could pass on skills I know she'll need along with the subjects she has to have. I learned that everyone learns better when skills are put into proper context. I guess you could say that we both learned that we could do the hard stuff!

Friday, April 24, 2015


My granbeanie is homeschooled, partly by her parents and partly by me.  I take it very seriously.  I want her to grow up smart and prepared for whatever life may hand her.  Sometimes I don't feel up to the job.  After all, how does one crack open a little head and pour in everything they need to know?

The tasks I set for myself are to teach her how to use language well and to understand history in the context of the times in which it occurred.

To do the former, I have made her write, and write, and write some more.  I take each story, each poem, each essay and mark it up for grammar, spelling, use of language and content.  I've taught her how to construct a paragraph, how to write a topic sentence and how to choose the right word.  I've challenged her to write about everything from fiction to book reports.  And it shows.

The granbeanie likes to talk to adults and I like to talk to kids.  So, we talk about history and how so much of it revolves around war, getting resources, religion and how it is always written by the victors.  We watch documentaries and read and again I challenge her with questions:  What would you do?  Which side would you be on?  What would that mean?

What I don't do is drill her on dates or the names of generals or rulers.  I have encouraged her to read biographies of people important but not necessarily the movers and shakers.  She read a biography of Clara Barton and is now reading Louis Pasteur's biography.  I have encouraged her to think about those who have made life better for everyone and I think these two qualify.

Most of all, I try to have fun with her.  Here's one of her trinket plates with a bracelet she made.  Her crafts project has been a lot of work for me but she has enjoyed it and is looking forward to her booth next week.

Someday I'll be gone and my granbeanie will be all grown up.  She'll be able to write and speak and to critically analyze the events around her.  I hope she will grow up smart, empathetic, and will never lose her desire to create. She'll know I had a hand in that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sweet Youth

So, today the granbeanie and I are doing a wrap-up of the final tasks for some of the craft booth items we've made.  We're varnishing some items, touching up paint on others, completing a few things.  Also, as this is a school project, I made her write an essay about the project, using good paragraph structure, complete thoughts, and complex sentences.

As I  set her up to write, I gave her my phone, set it to google and showed her how to ask it to spell words she has trouble with.  I had to chuckle as she went along because, as a result of missing front teeth, google gave her back nothing but plurals!

Finally, she completed the essay and I was pleased with the result.  However, she spelled "figured" as "fingered" and I laughed and said, "That's just creepy!"  as I lightly used my fingers to tickle her arms. We then ran around the living room fingering each other until we collapsed - my in laughter, her in hiccups!

I am so fortunate to be able to do this!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A way forward

Now that I am partially retired I am constantly busy.  I homeschool one of my granddaughters, I make pottery and I write, in addition to my work for America's Warrior Partnership.

As a way to teach crafts, math, economics and a bit of business to my granbeanie, as I call her, I let her create an end of term project.She chose to make items for a crafts booth.  I've made her track costs, estimate time and figure potential profit.  We will rent a booth at a local market and sell her item on May 2.  I've explained that while we will probably make back our actual costs, we are unlikely to cover all costs.  We are not considering the cost of anything I already owned or our time for this purpose.  So we need to make $28 to turn a profit for our purposes or $104 to make a full profit.

I was a reluctant homeschooler.  The decision was made by my daughter and her husband last year. I said I would help with English and art but when my daughter gave birth to a little boy with a rare genetic disorder last fall, I had to step up and take on more of the homeschooling.  It is a lot of work and I have a great deal of respect for those families who willingly take this on.  My granddaughter is not homeschooled out of any kind of religious motive.  Rather it happened because so much of her time at school was spent waiting for the rest of the class to settle down.

I feel privileged to have this second chance to influence another generation.  We get to talk a lot, my granbeanie and I, as we progress through her studies.  I have taught her more than crafts: I have taught her how to write, which, in essence, is really how to think. I have taught her to care about craftsmanship and how to do a thing well, not just sufficiently.  I have impressed on her how history is presented according to the author and I have encouraged her to view events from all perspectives. And I hope I have presented an empathetic world view and a sense that she can do anything.

My goal with my granbeanie is to make her an aware, competent and kind young woman.  If, along the way she can punctuate and spell, do math and throw pots, it's all good.

On Writing

The following was published a short time ago in a writing group to which I belong.  I thought it might be helpful to others as well.

So many here have posted various questions about how to start writing, how to get beyond a block, or how to get inspiration, that I thought I would share my experience. I realize that each person has his or her own way of doing things, and I am not trying to change anyone with this, but for those of you who are starting out, I will share my experience. 

Let me say at the start that I am 64 and have written and been paid for writing since I was 18. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines. I’ve written for companies and nonprofits. I’ve written speeches and grants. Only in the last decade have I begun to write books. That said, writing is writing and the lessons translate well from genre to genre.

When I was a cub reporter, decades ago, I remember sitting in front of my typewriter in the newsroom with panic. What do I write? How do I start? It occurred to me then that a) I had a deadline I had to meet and b) it was my JOB to write. So I wrote. This was my first lesson in discipline and there has not been a month since that I haven’t said to myself, “It’s your job. Just do it.”

In 2005 I was laid off from a job I loved (writing) and I decided to follow a different path. I have always done pottery, but as a hobby, and my skills were rusty and out-of-date. So I enrolled in a concentrated course of study for pottery. The instructor had all of us - newbie to experienced - throw nothing but small cylinders (the easiest form) for weeks. Many of us grumbled. “We know this. We want the good stuff.” Suffice it to say that perfecting the basics IS the good stuff and makes everything that follows easier. For me, it also taught me that to make pottery I had to sit at my wheel and actually throw something.

Then, a few years ago, I decided to enter National Novel Writing Month - 50,000 words in a month! I already had an idea for a novel and I thought, “How hard can it be?” What I learned in that month was that I had to give up something or more than one something. I did not watch TV. I passed on invitations from friends. I turned down favors people asked of me. I did no pottery. I even took a day of vacation time. But what I really did was sit down and write. Every day. I worked a fulltime job and came home and wrote. I did not edit. I did only a little research. Those things I did after that month. The lesson here was that my writing had to take precedence over the time-eaters in my life.

So, my writing friends, especially those of you who have not established a routine that works, those of you who are stuck, my advice is simply this: write. Do what you have to do. But perfect your basics as you go. Just as I had to throw cylinder after cylinder to get uniform walls, a flat floor, a rounded rim, you must use good grammar, proper spelling, and decent punctuation. Don’t sweat the small stuff – the titles, the spacing, the non de plumes, the exact adjective. Just write. As you write one of two things will happen: either you will polish your skills and turn out readable stuff or you won’t. But find out.

Nothing gets done, nothing is created, and nothing is finished until one actually does it. If you want to build a house, you measure, pour a foundation, hammer nails. If you want to write a novel, start with turning off the phone, the iPad, the TV and sitting down and writing. If you are a writer, it is your job. Just do it. And don’t be so sensitive. Your words are just words. They are not your spleen. Let others point out where they are awful as well as where they are good. Take criticism graciously, as the gift it is. In pottery, I make my students cut their precious pots in half, vertically, so they can see their uneven walls and thick floors. It is what my editors did with me as a young writer and I am the better for it. You will be, too. Don’t be afraid to change, to dump passages, to rewrite. Just do it. Write. No one will hold your hand. Writing is a solitary craft. Hone it on your own. Just write. Or don’t.

My birthday post

When The Beatles sang “When I’m 64” I was a child and the very idea that I would ever be 64 years OLD was as foreign to me as any I might have entertained.  But today that day has arrived and I thought I’d share all the reasons I am delighted to be 64.

I am happy in a way no one who still has most of life before them could understand.  I am satisfied with what I have accomplished in life, even though as I look back, I see how I might have done more, been better, avoided some of the potholes of life.  I raised two daughters, mostly on my own.  My goal was simply to raise competent women, and that they are, but they are so much more: accomplished, informed, aware, kind, successful.  And, they like me! They share their children with me, allowing me that second chance to be better and do more. And though I was unable to give them much materially, they are still grateful to me and have acknowledged my sacrifices for them. What more could a parent want? They are my best work.

As a child I wanted to be a writer and a potter.  And I am both.  I am satisfied with that and find joy and great satisfaction in making my pots and writing my stories. Somehow, I, too, have become competent.  When I recently painted a canvas, my oldest granddaughter gasped and said it was beautiful and I should sell it for $500.  Though I am no painter, I was pleased I impressed her and I encouraged her to reach beyond what she is comfortable doing.

I am not, in fact, losing my hair, as Paul intoned but instead have let my grey hair grow longer than at any time in my life - because I can.  In my younger years, long hair took too much time from working and parenting.  I worried that it would have frizz or dents.  Now I catch it up with a clip to work at my wheel or brush it out and tuck it carelessly behind my ears. I no longer lust after new clothes or fashionable shoes. I live in my collection of jeans and men’s shirts.  I am comfortable in my own skin.

I have enjoyed great love, friendships that run as deep as family, and the companionship of any number of pets - all strays - that I have saved and who have saved me in return.  I have stood on snowy mountain tops and also gazed into the depths of the Grand Canyon.  I have lived in big cities and rural towns so small the Fourth of July parade went by twice. I’ve run on beaches on both coasts, drunk wine in vineyards, marched on Washington and camped in the mud at Woodstock.  I have lived. There’s more life left and I know now how to get the most out of it.
I am satisfied, comfortable, content.  I am 64.