"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Anyone's Favorite Person?

This New Years I'm taking an idea from a YouTube video by Miranda July "Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?" It has some timely thoughts for 2012 that may just possibly change your life. Check it out (but first finish reading my blog.)

Are you the favorite person of anybody?

Say what?

Are you anyone’s favorite person?

Uh, no.

How sure are you of that? Very sure? Confident? You think so?

Wait a minute. Yes I am. My sister. I’m my sister’s favorite person.

You sure of that?

I smile broadly. Yes. I’m sure. That’s what sisters are for. You can’t mistake favorite person-ness in sisters. We shared a room for years. We talk for hours about everything. We’re going to share a home when we’re old. And my husband. I’m his favorite person. Forty years and counting. He watches for me so he can share his adventures and his stories. We have each others back, Till death do us part and all that. And Mitzi, the young woman who worked for me for nearly a decade. For all those years I was her favorite person except for her father, and now he’s passed and she’s moved on, but the memories are there. Definitely her favorite person.

How can you be so sure about these guys?

Because…because…because they’re my favorite person right back. And my sister Laura because she’s so gentle and giving. And my nephews because they’re so strong under adversity. And my children because--wait there’s more….

I know I’m their favorite person because I put myself out there. And if I’m not #1 at the moment I’m at least #2, or maybe #3. I've definitely been on somebody’s  top 10 during the last decade. Anyway, who cares if favorite-ness doesn’t last forever? What matters is that I measured up at the time. 

It feels really good to know that I make a difference. Isn’t that the point of life? Something we can all agree on?

In the probability that I AM someone's Favorite Person, here’s what I’ve learned from it :
1.      Be sincere.
2.      Be of service.
3.      Be available.
4.      Reciprocate. Give back.
5.      Love without judging.
6.      Laugh without reason.
7.      If something needs fixing, fix yourself first.
8.      Put your best self forward consistently
9.      Apologize and mean it.
       Realize that you have the best half of the friendship.

How about you? Are you anyone’s favorite person? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keeping it Real this Christmas

One woman's campaign to keep it all together. 

Last night my husband and I attended the Vine Street lighting ceremony in Paso Robles. We strolled hand-in-hand down the twelve or so closed-off blocks lined with Victorian houses. It was a mood night—part romance, part nostalgia.

Non-profits, churches and youth groups handed out popcorn, cotton candy, cider and hot chocolate to thousands of visitors. Churches had living crèches, bands and singers along the route. Scrooge taunted the crowds from the second story of a Victorian, calling out bah-humbugs, with the crowd scoffing their replies. The Grinch was present along with giggling children and their parents. Lights on top of lights. Pure magic!

NOW I feel the Season. The Hallmark marathon I’ve watched the last five nights didn’t hurt, either. Maybe it’s a case of overkill—I heard myself actually debating the cinematic points of “The Christmas Card” today with my sister. She likes Debbie Macomber’s “Trading Christmas” better. Yikes! There was a time when those movies were too saccharine to stand. Now I plant myself in front of the TV at 7:00 every night to catch the new one. But it’s Christmas. Whatchagonnado?

I have to watch them pronto because next week it’s the Battle of the Nutcracker Ballet—each night a different one, and the viewers get to vote on their favorite. Last year I taped part of one. This year I’m going to tape them all so my four-year-old granddaughter and I can watch them when she comes for the holidays.

Thanks to Jennifer’s fabulous green website tips, I’ll be wrapping my gifts in newsprint this year. She’s a military wife with a great moral compass. My gifts are for the most part purchased from local venders I met at craft and art fairs while I was selling my books. (Relax, family, you’re not getting crocheted doilies or acrylic stretch booties.)

Not to boast (well, maybe a little), I bought locally from my writer friends, artists ( a little plug here for a deserving artist,) jewelers and carvers. It feels good to have a personal connection with the creative genius behind my purchase. I even like that my paper shopping bags have a signature on them. I’m breaking out the sewing machine and making a wedding dress for my granddaughter’s new doll. (Santa’s secret is safe because she only reads picture books.)

I just organized a cookie exchange with the caveat that some of them need to be gluten free. That should be fun—plates of goodies I don’t have to bake. I’ll look like Martha Stewart when my kids arrive. “Mom! My gosh, you’ve been busy!”

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1tsp baking soda
1/2 cup GF chocolate chips

Beat first four ingredients in mixer. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop rounded tablespoons two inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Makes about two dozen.

Two weeks until Christmas. Plenty of time to burn my first batch of fudge. I’m humming carols, vacuuming and dusting spots I only catch when company’s coming. I have a new recipe from Susan Gaddis for easy crockpot oatmeal that I’m going to try out on my health-conscious kids this year, after they spent Thanksgiving mocking our Friday night reward trips to Foster Freeze for hot fudge sundaes. Who would have thought THOSE would ever be no-no’s? I’ve outlived my era!

Now for the annual Christmas tree lot argument with my husband who knows nothing about perfect trees. Then a day of pulling everything down out of the attic, decorating and swearing that NEXT year I’m either hiring it done or throwing half the decorations away. Christmas tends to build until I’m sick of the whole idea and nothing could live up to the hype. I’ve gone this route before and I know the signs. Not going to happen!

Where I used to have to budget my time, now it seems like it’s my energy. But I’m lucky this year. I have a bunch of appointments scheduled for the end of the year. It’s my way of not getting crazy about Christmas and ending up an emotional dishrag. 

This year I’m treating my daughter, niece and their kids to the Christmas show at the Oceano Melodrama and staying home. Seems like an old-folks thing to do, parking myself in front of the fire and living vicariously knowing the grandkids will come home glowing with excitement. And if that doesn’t put me in the Christmas spirit, nothing will. Eggnog, anyone?

How’s it going for you this season? Any thoughts on keeping the spirits bright?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Hard Christmas

Here's a Christmas story that helps me remember the power of a mother's love. I'm sharing it as my gift to the Universe with my best Season's Greetings.  
Yesterday, I heard my first Christmas carol, "Silver Bells," on the car radio, coming home from Thanksgiving at my daughter’s. There’s a line in the song that grabs me every time— “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…” It recalls the pure joy of Christmas shopping and furtive watching for my sisters while a shopping clerk takes forever to stow their unwrapped present in a plastic bag.
Holiday shopping will always be my favorite, a hangover from childhood when we would pile into our station wagon and head for town with our fistful of savings, and trudge through Cornet and Sprouse Reitz looking for the perfect gifts. A hardbound copy of Black Beauty cost fifty-nine cents, I remember because I spent long minutes considering the purchase.
A tube of Tangee Natural lipstick for my mother, going halfsies with my sisters for a foil sack of pipe tobacco for my father.

The three sweater girls and my brother
(I'm on the right.)

But there was a year that put everything into focus for later. Maybe everyone has one like that—the year when father was missing in action, or the crop failed, or mother lost her job at the cannery. Some of us are in those years now. Maybe the best we can do is to remind ourselves, this too, will pass.     
In 1959 we had just moved to Shandon, our family of nine squeezed into a tiny farmhouse on a frigid plain with half of our household possessions still piled under tarps in the yard. My father had left his steady job and bought a farm in late October, and any leftover cash was earmarked to feed us until the first crops came in.
The winter was hard. Ice crusted the water puddles and made our bare legs ache as we walked the quarter mile to the school bus. We were lonely and scared. That was the year I learned that poverty means you don’t even dare to want because you're afraid the desire might show in your face and it would hurt too much to have anyone know. My teacher read the “Gift of the Magi” that year in English, and I totally understood it  
Blessings were abundant that first winter, pots of soup and lamb stew and a square, squat propane heater that threw out enough heat to warm the living room, and a wood stove that took care of the kitchen. Fifty years later, the feeling of heat still engenders memories of coming out of frigid December wind and feeling love and safety as the door shut behind me.
I was eleven, in sixth grade. I wanted to be tall and thin, and shave my legs like the other girls, but I wanted my mother to know without my having to ask. We shared that special relationship that oldest daughters often do, and I was sure her warnings of a slim Christmas were exaggerations.   
Christmas morning I waited for my “big” present. When it was handed to me, the gift I opened brought a lump of disappointment I couldn’t disguise. It was a cheap J.C. Penney bulky knit cardigan to replace the one I was outgrowing, also white. I wanted a guitar and a pink poodle skirt, not a thick $2.99 sale sweater exactly like my sisters got. I remember holding it up to hide the tears from my mother, who was watching me. The sorrow in her eyes made it possible for me to fold the sweater with small, trembling passes and, finally, to look up and manage the brave smile. Later I tried my best to sound appreciative, but I knew I didn’t fool her. 
We made it through that Christmas. Mercifully, that ugly sweater wore out with repeated washings. The following school year I got a new car coat with our alfalfa money.
I have a soft spot for the “Coats for Kids” campaign in our town and each December I’m happy that kids get a new warm coat they can be proud of. But I’m even happier that “Toys for Tots” gives them something to play with, a reminder that they are children. That’s what grown-ups are for—to provide a promise that times will get better.
There were better Christmases for me—every one since has topped that bleak winter of 1959. Still, the memories of disappointment are softened by those of Mama making magic with a bottle of Karo syrup and a five-pound bag of C&S sugar from which she made popcorn balls and caramels—and divinity if it didn’t rain, Mexican orange candy if it did.
 What I remember most about that year is that Mama offered us a promise with every caramel walnut that came from her pan. 
 I now wear very warm coats. Thanks for donating to charities this season.
What’s the Christmas memory that keeps things in perspective for you? 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Guide to More Mediocre Housekeeping in Only Seven Days

I used to say I HATED housekeeping, but that was before “Hoarders.”Now I’m careful lest people think I sleep on piles of abandoned clothes and eat on a TV tray because my table’s buried under domestic flotsam.

So what's a girl to do? If I cleaned like the commercials imply I should, I'd never have time to write a word. Fortunately, turns out, everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten. Remember "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush"? A domestic primer for young ladies.

Here it is, cut and pasted from Wikipedia. 

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

These are the chores we'll do this week,
Do this week,
Do this week.
These are the chores we'll do this week,
So early every morning.

This is the way we wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes.
This is the way we wash our clothes,
So early Monday morning.

This is the way we iron our clothes,
Iron our clothes,
Iron our clothes.
This is the way we iron our clothes,
So early Tuesday morning.

This is the way we scrub the floor,
Scrub the floor,
Scrub the floor.
This is the way we scrub the floor,
So early Wednesday morning.

This is the way we mend our clothes,
Mend our clothes,
Mend our clothes.
This is the way we mend our clothes,
So early Thursday morning.

This is the way we sweep the floor,
Sweep the floor,
Sweep the floor.
This is the way we sweep the floor,
So early Friday morning.

This is the way we bake our bread,
Bake our bread,
Bake our bread.
This is the way we bake our bread,
So early Saturday morning.

This is the way we get dressed up,
Get dressed up,
Get dressed up.
This is the way we get dressed up,
So early Sunday morning.

Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

I paid attention at five years old. On Monday I wash clothes. And strip beds and remake beds. To save time, I pile a set of clean sheets on the bed and my husband has to make it up before he can go to sleep. Check! Job done.

Tuesday—who irons? I pile all the clean clothes on the sofa and fold them while I watch “What Not to Wear.” From the time my kids were five their pile got dumped on their dressers for them to put away any way they wanted. Check!

Wednesday—“Scrub” conjures an image of a wooden bucket and a large sloppy brush. I run my steam mop machine filled with distilled water over my tile floor and call it good. “Mulberry Bush” doesn’t say anything about vacuuming, but I run the vacuum around the wood floors and area rugs once a week whether they need it or not! Check!

Darning? I haven’t seen a hand-knit wool sock since my grandmother got liberated in the ’50s. Thursdays are for shopping. Couple of hours at TJ Maxx then I’m off to the grocery store with a fistful of coupons. Check!

Friday—hey, I’m ahead of the game. I swept on Wednesday so today I wash out the bathtub and sink while I wait for my Regenerist thermal treatment to work. Mother says a good housekeeper keeps her bathroom trash receptacles empty. Check!

Sometimes on Saturday I bake a loaf of gluten-free bread or cornbread with brown rice flour for binding. Cake. Cookies. Or even better, a trip to Apple Hill to buy a pie. Check!

Tradition is important, but I mix it up. If my husband isn’t home, I meet friends for brunch. Or drop by someone’s house on the way home from church. If he is, we go out to supper or take a motorcycle run out to Parkfield for buffalo burgers and beer. Long as we're home in time for my show. HBO has a great line-up that night.

 So that’s my week. You know how the military has a “need-to-know” rule? Well, I have a "need-to-clean" rule. Nothing but the basics, Ma’am. I’ve learned to walk around with a wet recycled wash cloth and hit the woodwork. Or a spritz of orange oil for dusting, or alcohol and water for the windows--and call it good. 

So today I get to write. 

Except that it’s Wednesday, and I have to run the forklift while Steve cuts a branch over the driveway. Or he needs help cutting and loading a chord of red oak for delivery to the widow who depends on us every year. Or the horses in the pasture next door get out and I have to run around the house and push them back into the corral. 

Let's see—tomorrow Steve’s cutting a new driveway for a neighbor. I’ll probably have to run to town for tractor parts in our ancient 1-ton Dodge diesel with the six-speed and the 25-pound clutch. I’ll be a wreck by the time I get home again.

You may think I'm joking, but we really did all of these things this past week. I write at night while he watches TV. It’s my compromise to a crazy hyphenated life. I haul my laptop into my writing room and work until midnight. I’d work inside, but it's sooo cozy when the fire's in the woodstove and the dogs and Steve are dozing in the living room, that I tend to get co-opted into the “Family Plan.”  

Like they say: Moderation in all things. Nobody’s going to eat off my kitchen floor, but that’s what plates are for.

How about you? Got any time-saving ideas to share?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

50 Rules To Live By

Everybody needs to have a list of rules to live by. If you don't happen to have one, feel free to borrow what you like from mine. I borrowed some, but most are mine. Listing my beliefs changed me. I hope it changes you. 

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. When choosing which path to take, pray for direction.
4. Be a daychanger. Make a difference everyday.
5. Learn to live on less than you earn.
6. You are not merely your job.
7. Your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Your
     friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
8. Pay off your credit cards every month.
9. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
10. Grieve with others. Send a sympathy card or make a call.
11. Put your change in a jar. It adds up.
12. Chocolate and pets aren’t everyone’s thing, and that’s OK.
13. Reconcile while your enemy is still living.
14. Other people’s success doesn’t reflect your abilities. Relax.
15. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
16. A cleansing breath calms the mind.
17. Hoarding is fear behavior. Share your excess.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. Sixty-five is a great time to start your next great adventure.
20. Determination can accomplish anything. Be tenacious.
21. Splurge on yourself today. Burn the candles, use the
     nice pillow cases, wear the fancy lingerie.
22. Over prepare, then relax and take life as it comes.
23. Be zany. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. Plan for the future, live in the moment, learn from the past.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five
      years, will this matter?"
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything. And tell them so.
29. Spend your life developing your talents.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. You “arrive” as you discover your authentic self.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. Pay attention to the grace moments. Thank God for them.
35. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw
        everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. Recognize excellence every time you experience it.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
43. Nobody cares if you’re fast. Be thorough.
44.Cast your pebbles so they make a ripple in the pond.
45. Write something every day.
46. Television and internet aren’t real life.
47. Help someone on their journey.
48. Keep your living space clean and organized.
49. Allow time for meditation and prayer.
50. Everyone does the best they can do.

Anything you would add? Let me know what's on your list to live by.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Letter from a Fan

This morning I received a note from a woman I’ve never met. We connected on a LinkedIn discussion and she asked about my memoir. Short version, I shipped her a couple copies and she and her sister read them at the same time. 

Here’s what she wrote:

Hi Anne. Although I wrote a discussion feed (9-10 days ago) about your book, it hit me today that I wanted to write directly to you…. For me, reading your essays zinged my spirit. I laughed out loud and even had a few tearful moments. I had become more at rest within my own skin yet, after reading those essays, there was a settling-in related to body comfortability. Truly, I do not think there are any pockets of body hatred left (in me)!
Her letter resonated on every level. Sure, it’s a fan letter from a complete stranger.Woo-hoo, Hurray for me!! But it’s so much more, a thread on the warp of the universal blanket we’re all creating together. Her act of kindness in reaching out to me on a drizzly winter morning gave me encouragement. I write in part to create community for those wounded by body image, estrangement or lack of direction. D--’s words reminded me that my words matter. I like to think it's a pay-it-forward thing for all the reviews I've written for other authors.

She went on:
As for my sister, C--, she wanted me to tell you that ORDINARY APHRODITE "made me come alive!. C-- sees the good all around her and enjoys interacting with others. Life has not been easy for her. She had experienced soulful healing of most old wounds and makes no bones about her spiritual strength. Specifically, C-- wanted me to tell you, "Your essays cleansed my soul, made me feel better about myself than ever before. Thank You!"
Whoa. And SHE thinks I’m the writer? Communication comes in many forms. Performance art, Visual art, written art, intuitive, auditory, physical touch; if it touches the heart, it’s communication.

There’s a saying that bounces around from writer’s workshop to writer’s workshop—Nonfiction is about facts, but Fiction is about truth. For me, Memoir is a bit of each--and more. It combines fact in a subjective way that reveals the truth of the writer’s heart, soul and humanity. A memorist connects with the universal “us” or there’s no point in publishing. Without this connection the writing is a private path for healing. (A great reason for writing memoir, by the way.)

I feel like making everyone feel connected is payback for junior high. I make a point to notice young teens, to remind them that they’re special and wonderful. Someone needs to, and I personally think it’s the job of us Village Crones, the old ladies-around-the-campfire telling the stories and passing on the tribal lore.

I have this theory about my writing—I show what it feels like to be unblocked.

Lots of people are blocked. (It may be a Western Hemisphere and Brunai thing.) They feel like they need MORE. More money, more shoes, more sex, more booze, or whatever it is that makes them happy. Just fill them up until they say “When!” But they’re blocked so nothing ever feels like enough. I’ve made it my journey to become unblocked. Compared to a few years ago, I can take an amazingly little amount of—whatever—food, money, talent, (shoes) or opportunity and it feels like enough. Whatever I have passes through my writing fingers and comes out big enough to share.

This is the secret to success. Unblock the creative flow. Loosen the heart strings. Add a thread to the universal blanket. Proverbs says it best: Give away all the talents and more will come. God loves a cheerful giver.

I hate to admit it, but ORDINARY APHRODITE doesn’t contain the keys to the kingdom. It’s just a humorous, relaxing way to voyeur (can that be a verb?) into my life and see if anything works for you. Hey, I have plenty—help yourself. And if you find anything, I’d love it if you drop me a line. 

So what about you? Have you ever written a fan letter? Received one? Wanna share how it made you feel?   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Here's 10 Ways to "Work" a Writer's Conference

It’s the day after the WWW Women Writing the West Conference in Seattle and I’m packing up. In my folder are business cards from an agent and two publishers who each want to see both novel manuscripts I pitched them.

It was a great conference, but it wasn’t all luck that brought me to this serendipitous place. I’m lucky—I’m not shy and that helps a lot in this industry. I just really love to connect with people.

If you went home feeling like you missed something, here’s a few suggestions for next time. They’re not my ideas. Most of these are points that agents and publishers make all the time. But sometimes it helps to see them written out so you can strategize for your next conference.   

1)      Study the conference flyer. That’s why it’s sent out in advance. Research every agent and publisher who is attending. Go to their websites. See what genres they represent and which books they acquire. Also study the other agents at their agency.
2)      Make an appointment for a one-on-one while the time-slot selection is good.

3)      Arrive early to the conference—the night before is perfect. At the Embassy Suites breakfast, I noticed a woman sitting alone. Even though I was finished eating, I introduced myself. Turns out she was an acquisitions editor. We had a delightful chat that had nothing to do with books or writing. During the conference we found other opportunities to talk. On Monday she emailed me to express her pleasure at having met me. And invited me to submit.

4)      Don’t assume someone isn’t “your type”. The YA agent who buys vampire books turned out to be a new friend. We sat together at the awards dinner and she quizzed me to see if I had anything she could take a look at. Turns out, I have a novel that she’s interested in if I change the protagonist’s age. I wasn’t pitching her—she was interested in me as a person and the offer just fell into place.

5)      Enter the conference contest. I found a short-story from a few years ago and entered it in the LAURA Awards. I didn’t win top place, but my third-place earned me a surprised glance from a publisher I had pitched earlier. As I returned to my table with my award and some flattering remarks about my writing ability, I watched her make the connection, face to pitch, and I know she’ll remember me.

6)      Make a point to speak to every faculty member. Ask questions of them. Establish a relationship and don’t obsess about your elevator pitch. If your conversation makes the pitch feel awkward right then, wait for a better time. The key is to be authentic.

7)      Dress for success. I always wear a brightly colored dress or black. I try to look professional and successful. No jeans for me at a conference—ever. After all, the presenters are all dressed professionally. It helps them to see me as one of them.

8)      Volunteer to introduce a speaker, moderate a panel, make an announcement or wrap raffle items. Anything to get your name mentioned. Ask pertinent questions at the Q & A. A writer is a speaker. Demonstrate your poise. Make your name stand out. It all helps.

9)      Buy a lot of books. Buy your fellow attendees’ books. Buy the presenters’ books. But be authentic about it. Talk up your common interests. Make friends. The conference is as much about face time as it is about learning new skills.

10)  Write thank you notes as soon as you return home. Work to perfect the novel you plan to submit. Mention the conference in your submission letter, but don’t assume liberties because you shared a Bloody Mary with an agent on Sunday morning. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Becoming a Daughter

Here's a reprint from an essay I wrote about my mother-in-law. It was published in the Tolosa Press. I want to share it with all the women who are going through similar experiences. My mother-in-law passed away in the most healing manner, clutching her rosary. It feels good to know that the journey of small steps ended with dignity and healing for both of us

This isn’t about me. My mother-in-law was always quick to remind me of this in the sharp tone she used to mask her fear that I would pull my support, pack my “overnight” bag and leave her to die alone.

She is Marybeth Schroeder, the red-haired lady who dressed for the TV camera and took the Mayor and his council to task whenever she saw the need. For some she was the voice of conscience, for others the proverbial thorn.

For the last year that she lived alone, I was her caretaker, the significant other who signed her outpatient release and unlocked her front door when she returned home from rehab with a knitting hip and a nagging fear that the world had changed in her absence. (Now she’s living in a lovely assisted living home, grateful for her cheerful caretakers and the five frail women who share her life.) 

We didn’t start off the best of friends. Forty-one years ago she bought a black dress for her son’s wedding and refused to invite anyone from her side of the family. Frankly, she wanted better for him and she was not shy about letting me know.

I was the in-law who never seemed to please, but who hung in there trying. Some of the fault was mine. I didn’t share her vision of matriarchy with me on the bottom rung. I was unfinished when I married her only child and I acquiesced until her grudging intolerance became a pattern for us both.

A Portuguese daughter of Azorean dairy farmers, she had worked hard to raise her social status and she saw me as a spoiler. In the 50s she opened Schroeder’s Photography, on Higuera Street, in San Luis Obispo, CA, and operated it for two decades in three-inch heels and picture-perfect makeup. In the 60s she bought a prime piece of real estate on Wilding Lane and designed her Tudor-style house. Her castle.

Over the years the two of us formed a history. Jaunts to old inns and cafes helped diffuse our differences. She taught me nuances of style on shopping trips to Monterey, Fresno and Santa Barbara. I drove her to San Bernardino and back the same day, a 600-mile round trip so she could buy a Pekinese puppy to replace her beloved Booper. On the way we dropped $60 on brunch at the Sheraton and giggled while a white-jacketed waiter kept our champagne flutes filled.

 When a heart attack forced her to give up photography she became interested in city politics. At 85, she still drove herself to City Hall three days a week and attended meetings that lasted until 1:00 A.M. But the years caught up with her. One morning she missed the last two steps of her stairway, tumbled and broke her femur. Two months later she was released from rehab with a walker, a commode—and me.

The days formed a comforting pattern. I made out her checks and she signed them. She scrutinized the grocery receipts, questioned the calls I received on her phone and tried to make things the way they had been. In the mornings I read to her from my novel-in-progress. I slowed my pace to match hers. We took afternoon tea with pound cake made of lemons from her backyard tree.

We acted in single accord, respectful of our limits, but it was not easy. Visiting nurses and physical therapists patted my arm and wrote covert notes encouraging me. They understood that my mother-in-law was difficult.

At the hospital I heard one of the nurses whisper, “She’s the daughter-in-law, not the daughter!” The first time it happened, I smiled. But I realized that her son needed to be at her side; he’d missed the best parts of his mother: the adventures, her joie de vivre. He didn’t understand the glue that cemented his mother and his wife like a feminine Odd Couple; two women who never liked each other very much until we came to recognize the depth of our love.

One night, when I washed her feet and painted her toenails with vermilion polish, I looked up to find tears. She would never think to thank me, but I saw in her eyes that she was touched. We are not that different, I thought; when I am old and alone I hope someone touches me like this.

Now she’s waiting to die and I miss her already. Maybe Thomas Wolfe is right; we can never go home again, but we can travel to a place we've never been. My mother-in-law was right, too. This isn’t about me

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sisterhood of the Traveling Scribes

My Sidney friend reading Ordinary Aphrodite
I’ve heard stories about traveling buddies—they’re like the Three Bears: some are too demanding, some are too wishy-washy, and once in a while, one is Just Right.

That’s what happened when my writer friend Arletta and I paired up for an unstructured trip to Seattle and Vancouver Island a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to learn travel methods that involve quirky detours and unplanned sojourns to land’s end.

A view of the Olympic Peninsula 
We were clear on our goals—we wanted to take a road trip to the Northwest to research our novels, write for long periods in our motel rooms, and see lots of museums and local spots along the way.

We wanted to start as friends and end up as better friends. And that’s exactly what happened. After thirteen days on the road I feel qualified to write a few words. I can’t really call this advice.
Call it Observations on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Scribes.

       1. Lay out ground rules in e-mails until you both agree—starting and ending dates, expense
        sharing and expectations, anything that would be awkward to discuss absolutely should be!

  1. Assess expertise. Like Click and Clack, the Tappitt Brothers on NPR, we brought different skills to our adventure. Arletta’s a whiz at city driving. I’m great with long distances. She’s OCD (her words, not mine) about researching sights along the way. She can find travel consultants in Canada that book amazing B&B’s like the Gatsby Mansion cheaper than on-line.
  1. Be adventurous. In my experience, freeway off-ramps hide creatures from the dark lagoon, luring the unwary traveler to her death. For Arletta, these same off-ramps are paths to adventure. We found ourselves quite happily lost a number of times on our way to glass museums, walking bridges, German colonies, artists hide-aways and short cuts on country roads. But her cool confidence was contagious.
  1. Make sure one of you reads maps. Arletta was intrepid with her extensive collection of maps, with each anticipated town circled. We had a GPS, but where’s the adventure in THAT? She enjoyed estimating mileage using the one-inch legend at the bottom of the page. Weird!
  1. Pack for the weather. We were blessed with fine, clear weather, probably the longest streak Seattle had all year. Rain boots, coats and hats stayed in the trunk and we could have made it fine in sandals, but, get real! We watch those Northwest weather reports and for California girls, Seattle means rain. 
  1. Check compatibility variants. We are both Virgos, both former social workers, both writers and white-haired grandmothers. On the ferry from Port Angeles to Vancouver, the customs form we had to fill out made us look like Irish twins. There it was in black and white—our birthdates—month, day and year—with almost every number the same. It was for me an incredible bonding moment—like running into someone in Paris from your hometown high school and realizing you both like horsemeat pot roast with frites.
  1. Be playful. We egged each other into doing things neither of us would ordinarily do. The third Embassy Suite cocktail comes to mind, or twenty-five cent BBQ wing night at a rowdy sports bar with a trivia contest where we acquitted ourselves nicely. (I won a contested point for our team by threatening our talents in a Karaoke medley of Neil Sedaka tunes.) We got the point. Baby bats are called “pups”. My wild guess was “dogs”, but coming so close was a sign, in my opinion, that we deserved the point.
  2. Going “Dutch” means half of everything. Meal tips, maids' tips, hostess gifts, everything. We divvied up on the spot so we had no convenient “forgetting.”
  1. Concede to the most bargain-conscious. Arletta could speed-read highway gas signs on the Interstate. She chose the fill-up spots and the hotels. We did Continental breakfasts, ate one meal out and supplemented  with PB&J. It worked for me.
  1. What happens on the road stays on the road. If we had had a gripe, we would have settled it there. Sharing common values—like minimal chatting in the motel, focusing on the positive, and being ready for whatever--allowed us to see more, write more and create memories that will stay with us always.
Me with my LAURA Award
I arrived home last night exhilarated and refreshed, with not a single regret. I'd pack up and leave tomorrow if my travel partner was ready, but she's still out on the road. Read Arletta’s version of the trip on her blog for details. She's the facts gal. I'm the feelings gal.  
I won a LAURA Award for short fiction. And what a surprise--when I returned home I found my essay at Women’s Memoirs blogsite. Life's not always about winning, but it's nice when it happens.

Now on to the next part of the journey.

Got any pointers for a great road trip? Any horror stories? Come on, ’fess-up.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Last night I:
  • Licked the last bite of Cheesecake Mousse Surprise from my Saturday night banquet spoon. 
  • Gave a standing ovation to the keynote speaker, Ellen Waterston, for a talk/read with a degree of creative talent I only dream of. 
  • Won a LAURA Short Story Award and had my photo taken with other winners. 
  • Ogled the WILLA trophy I hope to win when my first novel is published.

I’m engaging in the post-conference high-five. The last night of the conference is the time when anything seems possible. For just a moment a writer is allowed the luxury of forgetting that publication is a process, not an event. When getting a juicy, six-figure book contract feels like it’s only a submission away, thanks to the nice agent I sat across from at an interview table. I feel like I’ve just grabbed a golden ring, even if I’ve never ridden a carousel with such a ring, even if it’s a cheesy metaphor even if I had.

For three days I worked the room in high heels and a smile. (Clothed. Bare-naked is a gambit that would work in reverse--promise.) Had a surprising heart-to-heart with an agent while everyone else was in a workshop. Had three agents request submission chapters and synopses. Shared moments of connection with agents and publishers who were feeling warm and fuzzy, too, because they’re human, and they’re looking for the next breakout novel--and they hope as much as I do that it’s me.

This morning, as I pulled my suitcase out of the closet and unpacked my bureau, I felt vaguely sad. But last last night the bartender started making my signature drink before I ordered it, a sign that it’s time to leave.

Time, also, because I’m starting to weigh the costs of my trip for my family, three of whom had birthdays this weekend. Bad, bad person! I missed my daughter’s, son’s and husband’s B-Days in a single swipe. Tough Luck, I thought when I scheduled the trip. Now remorse has set in. Worse, the phone call that my mother went into the hospital while I was gone. Nothing serious. My sister and niece are with her.

Everything serves to remind me that my advancement comes at a personal cost. No one's doubting the importance of the Women Writing the West Conference. I received an award. I put my name up for a national office next year. I met a publicist and maybe my next publisher.

So when I get home, happy and committed, I’ll send out submissions and thank-you’s. I’ll start rewriting with purpose. My next few months will have enormous focus. The friendships I made and reconnected with are my “tribe”. They are women who can advance my career, my joy and my self-image, (and I, theirs.) The surprise of the conference was something I didn’t see coming, a chat with a young woman that will change both of our lives.

No regrets for the PB&J Girls as my friend Arletta and I start home. Coming off a writer’s conference is like jumping in the car after a family reunion where, for a few miles, everyone laughs about Uncle Ralph’s corny jokes or Grandma’s lumpy gravy—or maybe the connection we made with a shy cousin in the hallway when we both started to share our hearts.

So I’ll get my husband a great gift and take him to dinner in a few days. But, sorry, honey. We're taking the ferry to Victoria tomorrow morning. Gotta discover Emily Carr. Like we found the Panama Hotel in Seattle, of THE HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET fame. See ya!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reinventing Myself (Again)

I now understand why agents can't represent a book they don't absolutely love. a year ago, I was convinced that my memoir, ORDINARY APHRODITE, was just an egotistical rant. I was embarrassed about my disclosures and I lost faith in my ability to discern between writing for the Universal "us" and just letting it all hang out. But something changed. G___, a member of my writer's group, approached me at a meeting and told me that the book had saved her marriage. She was the eighth woman to tell me the same thing, and I realized I needed to honor my vision.

Something I've noticed about aging--we spend a lot of time worrying about the body, but not so much on the rest. My nerves are affected by mysterious tidal surges, or the waxing and waning of the moon--some inexplicable natural force I can't pinpoint. I work myself up, only to let myself sink into complacency (at best) or lethargy (at worst.) Keeping myself on an "even keel" involves a mind-over-matter approach with thyroid supplements, exercise and good-old positive thinking.

Part of my strategy involves being proactive. Good Stuff In, Good Stuff Out. I attended the Central Coast Writers' Conference and heard Anne Allen speak about social marketing. And the moon and the tides aligned.

With a rebirth of confidence, I started talking up my book. I put a copy in my purse and I've sold it several times now. I've mailed out copies to women I met through social blogging sites I comment on. Sold a copy to the clerk at the drugstore, and another to a woman in Coco's while I was waiting to meet my sister and mother for lunch. More to women at the Pioneer Day tea I attended. While I was there, I jotted down e-mail addresses from women I had lost touch with.

Suddenly everything is fun again. I can see possibility instead of excuses. It's a new day! I'm getting more postcards printed, this time with info about OA's availability on Kindle and Nook. I put several display copies in waiting rooms--my doctors, my tire shop, my beauty shop, with contact info printed inside.

The Holiday Craft Fair Season is upon us. I'm having Staples print a poster of the breath-taking comments that readers made about OA. My tire store gave me a great display holder and I'll use that when I sell at the Octoberfest in Los Osos and the Twin Cities Craft Fair at the end of October. I'm loaded for bear, Baby!

My goals are to 1) increase my contact list for my next release and to 2) decrease my stack of book boxes in the garage by ten by Christmas. That's a reasonable goal. I'm building my network in hopes of finding a publisher for my next book, but I'm also having fun with the one that's already out.

Okay, so I sound like Queen of the Boast. Trouble is, I haven't found any way to energize myself without the collateral damage spilling out onto the world. Life is good. My unleashed energy is having unexpected results in (ahem) other areas of my life, as well. After all, self-esteem is self-esteem. When is life ever better than when we are living our passion, our life's purpose? I tend to go off on rampages when I believe in something. And guess what--this time I believe in ME!     

How about you? Is your  confidence rebounding (or lagging)? What are you doing about it?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paying Peter

My heart is racing. My hands are steady. I’m READY!  It's the first of the month and my packet of bills are ready to pay. I might have said, “ready to mail,” but I went paperless two months ago. I’m probably the last person to go electronic, but I actually felt bad for the USPS and I wanted to do my share.

In our household, I do. Growing up, my mother kept the farm books, and that included the bills. My mother-in-law owned a business, so my husband was totally up with the idea. Actually, his specialty is long-range planning and his sub-specialty is delegating, so it works for him.  

In the early days, some of my girl friends' husbands acted like I was uppity. Usurping my male’s masculinity, and all that. But now, a lot of the wives have changed their minds. Some are divorced. Some couples take turns. Some split their bills right down the middle. One pays electric, telephone and garbage; the other pays television, insurance and phone. Dutch treat for date night.

Being responsible for myself is something I took away from an assertiveness class in the ’70s. I entered the room and took a seat along with five other women, each in their late fifties or early sixties, about the age I am today. But I was thirty-two back then. I saw a room filled with overweight old women and I thought I had entered the wrong door. The arrogance of my over-educated ego kicked in. As a college graduate I was embarrassed to be sitting next to these “career housewives,” admitting by association that I didn’t have all the answers. After all, isn’t my baby boomer generation heir to the kingdom?

But when they started to talk, I shut up and took notes.

What I remember about those divorced women is that they shared a collective unaccountability for their finances. Many didn’t know their exes’ Social Security number. Some were still reeling from IRS liens on tax returns filed by their husbands that they hadn’t read or understood. Some didn’t even remember signing the document that nailed them as co-conspirator in a tax-fraud scheme.

Later, I took an H&R Block tax course and worked for two seasons as a tax preparer. It helps to understand the way the tax system works (or doesn’t. I’d love to see a flat tax.) Before we send it out, I stick our tax return in front of my husband and give him a line-by-line review.   

According to experts, on-time bill paying is a great way to hang on to your earnings. Another is having on-line banking ability to track your balance. It keeps you out of those check-cashing store fronts. Like Grandpa used to say, “Pennies make dollars.”

 In the process of writing my first memoir about my grandparents and our farm heritage, I found their bank statements from the ’40s and ’50s. Nestled inside skinny little brown envelopes, each statement contained six or seven cancelled checks made out to the grocery store for $5.63, J.C. Penneys for $3.20, or a seed company. Even in the 50s, their monthly outlay was tight, with no excess or frivolity. I noticed that Grandma signed the checks.

Prying into someone else’s life changed me. I wanted to be more like them and less like I was, a spontaneous shopper with lots of shoes in my closet. In my memoir, I wrote about them and included the part about the checks to honor their frugality. I’m proud to say that the lesson took (well, sort of.)

Thanks, Grandma. And thanks, Marian, Claire, Rose, the ladies in the assertiveness workshop who showed me that financial savvy isn’t a man’s responsibility.

To be honest, None of them had the temptations that we do, today. But we work with what we have and we do the best we can. So it’s the first of the month and I’m going to try to pay Peter without robbing Paul. And, if I’m honest, I’ll make a promise to do better next month.

How are you about paying bills? Hate it? Love it? Avoid it?

FYI: if you're signed into Wordpress, you have to sign out to post on Blogger (or post as anonymous.) Otherwise your comment may not appear. I'm truly sorry for the inconvenience. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Maiden Voyage

Every writer needs a blog. Writers cling to the belief that they have something to say, and if they spend enough time honing their craft, then someone will listen. (At last count there are rumored to be more readers in the universe than writers, although this is changing daily.) And since I'm as opinionated as the next writer, this is my first, awkward, attempt at going public.

Since I have no followers, this is the perfect time. It's like singing in the shower--no one is around to hear me.  

In the spirit of introducing myself, I'll share why I added an "e" to my name. I used to be plain Ann, and it pains me even to type it here. Always I felt unsophisticated, sturdy, unfinished. I remember the day I made the decision to "e." I was driving to work and a near-death experience changed my life.

I was following a tanker truck carrying gasoline, and suddenly it began fishtailing across the lane six feet ahead of me. But Providence provided. It was my good luck to be following the world's best driver, a trucker with the presence of mind to put his turning indicators on so I knew he was swerving for a reason. Hypnotized by those blinking lights I made a split-second decision to follow him off the shoulder of the road. 

As my tires hit the dirt, the tip of a rolling twenty-foot Christmas tree brushed the side of my car. The potentially lethal tree flopped and settled in the middle of the lane--my lane. Other cars, whose drivers had the benefit of seeing it coming, maneuvered around it. On the inside lane a pickup truck with red twine hanging from the overhead racks was backing toward the traffic. I hope the driver managed to pull his Christmas tree from the road before he got run over, but I didn't stick around to see. Neither did the gasoline truck driver.   

Technically the incident might not have meant certain death, but in my mind it was close enough to qualify. Close enough to remind me that nothing's for sure, and most people are killed within fifteen miles of home. The day was December 31, 2000. I remember the radio talk station debating the point about whether it was the last day of the old millennium or whether that day would occur in 365 days. For me the new millennium had already begun, a new beginning, the day I redesigned my life. 

That near-death experience seemed to be the sign I had been waiting for, I gave myself a New Year's present: the letter "e". Ann became Anne. 

I was surprised. Once I made the decision, the universe cooperated. I expected to feel self-conscious, but the world was graciously accommodating. My husband Steve teased me for a while, calling me "Anne with an 'e'." My daughter sent an e-mail to ask, "If Ann was Mom, does that mean Anne is now Mome?" She sent me a coffee mug with my new name, a gift that warmed me more than the morning cup of tea it often holds.   

So that's it, the story of my "e". Part of my memoir, Ordinary Aphrodite. It's a gift I gave myself when I set down to record the joyous events of my life in my belief that, if we search hard enough,  everything in life has a shred of humor in it. 

See you next time. I'll post once a week, on Sundays unless something comes up.