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A late spring afternoon in rural anywhere, a solitary figure leans against a fence, enjoying a moment of quiet reflection as the day draws to an end.  Oh, no, wait!  There’s a cell phone pressed to one ear.

I wonder sometimes how much we as individuals and a society miss by staying connected to electronic chatter rather than ever taking a moment to gather our thoughts.  How many great ideas slip away because we were busy riding the speed dial?  I’m all for conversations in the proper time and place.  And I don’t leave home without my cell phone, although I rarely use it.  But do we really need to talk so much?  Do we do it just because we can?  Are cell phones a shield from being alone with our thoughts?    

We gain so much from technology, but we should be careful about what we’re willing to lose.     

Your signature?

I was impressed the other day that my granddaughter who is in first grade was practicing cursive, a skill that if I remember correctly, we weren’t allowed to learn until thrid or fourth grade.  Then a friend, the mother of a high schooler, pointed out the kids learn cursive but quit using it because unless a teacher specifically assigns a handwritten paper, they always text or compose at a computer keyboard, going so far as to print their signatures.  Because I’ve also heard and believe it’s true that writing by hand and at a keyboard are two entirely different thought processes, it saddens me to think pen and paper might become obsolete.  I learned to compose at a typewriter keyboard for survival in a newsroom and this skill certainly served me well for writing novels on a PC.  At the keyboard I could put words on paper almost as fast as my thoughts came.  But for me jotting words in a notebook is a more leisurely, inspiring process that precedes hitting the keyboard.  Being away from a computer screen sparks ideas.  So I made a resolution to spend at least a few minutes each day scribbling in a notebook.  And a printed signature?  How long would it take someone to print his or her signature on the paperwork at a house closing?  That’s just wild.  Has anyone else heard of this trend?


No Snow

A big selling point for living in the South after growing up in Michigan was no sooty snowdrifts lingering on the sidewalks until June.  I’m not a big fan of endless winter.  But maybe it was the influence of all those elementary school bulletin boards depicting the four seasons, flowers in spring, the beach in summer, golden leaves in autumn and snowflakes in winter that ingrained in me that four changing seasons represent the natural rhythm of life.  I’ve lived in places where it not only never snowed, but where you couldn’t tell from the weather whether it was June or January.  So boring.  An occasional snowfall signals everything is right with the world.  When you don’t live with snow on a regular basis, it’s magic.


When we lived in Texas, the local Taco Bell once set up a snow machine so kids could experience playing in the snow.  Great idea that turned sour when the bigger kids packed the wet snow into some mean snowballs and began pelting other kids.  The crowd dispersed quickly.  One year we went to Michigan at Christmastime and I was hoping my snow-deprived children would experience a white Christmas, an idea that backfired as after a week we didn’t see a solitary snowflake until we were leaving, and then we saw far too many.  We crept along the Interstate behind the snowplow.


One thing I love about East Tennessee is it has four distinct seasons.  The snow here is pretty and temporary.   But more than a decade has passed since Chattanooga experienced a decent snowfall.  We live on a hill, and there was round-the-clock sledding out front for about three days, until the snow turned so slick people were taking out mail boxes and one guy sailed down the hill and clear across the main street below.  The newspaper interviewed an ER doc from Detroit who said he’d never seen as many sledding injuries as he had here.  In Michigan we went sledding on open hills on the golf course, not in the middle of the street, which might explain the difference.  It was a little embarrassing that my husband kept asking the neighborhood kids for turns on their sleds, so next trip to Michigan we went to Toys ‘R Us and even though it was July they dug a sled out of the back room for us.  It has been gathering cobwebs in the garage for probably fourteen years, waiting for the next snowfall.


Because Chattanooga is in a valley, snow likes to skip over us or dissolve to nothing before it hits the ground.  It can snow south of us in Atlanta and not here.  Used to be, a forecast of snow would cause a run on bread and milk at the local grocery stores.  The local TV stations would send a poor freezing rookie reporter to stand on top of Monteagle, which is not all that close, but is where it snows first if it is going to snow anywhere in this area.   A few years ago the schools dismissed early for a big snowstorm.  I walked outside at the time the storm was supposed to hit.  It was 50 degrees.


I don’t pay much attention to forecasts of snow anymore and no one seemed to be stocking up on bread when snow showers with a possible accumulation was predicted yesterday.   Okay, I said I’d believe it when I saw it, but I did have the new tripod I received for Christmas ready just in case.  Instead of novelty and excitement we had a cold gloomy day with howling wind.  No snowmen, no excitement, no photos.



Community and the Economy



Wherever you go lately, it’s difficult to escape conversation about the current economy, referred to as “changing, challenging, uncertain, recession, depression,” or frequently simply as this @#$%$#@*!!! economy.   I try to avoid writing about economics because I am a fiction writer, not an economist.  However, I am from Detroit and a big fan of Henry Ford, who believed a community should produce things that were going to be used in that community.  It’s a simple concept.  In a small village an individual makes pots and pans.  If he or she hires local workers, they will have money to buy his or her pots and pans.  So my small protest to this economy is following a “close to home” rule, not merely shopping locally but seeking out products produced as close to home as possible.  Just my opinion, and like I said, I’m no economist.  But this certainly seems like the time for communities to pull together and neighbors to help each other out.      

Cents-Off Grocery Coupons

More people seem to be using cents-off grocery coupons lately.  People are even enrolling in classes for coupon clipping, which to me is astonishing.  The other day I cut a few out of the Sunday paper inserts and carried them to the store.  Wouldn’t you know it, as I was clutching those I planned to use, I dropped one.  So I had this idea that kept bugging me until I executed it.  I needed a coupon wallet with a pocket on the outside to hold the coupons to be used, no more fumbling and dropping them.  I like to sew when it means making something I need and can’t go out and buy somewhere.  This meant making a pattern, and unfortunately I can’t draw.  But I do have graph paper and rulers.  I needed something like an envelope, so that’s the shape I started with, adding extra fabric for seam allowances.  I made some that didn’t look quite right and kept revising my pattern.  Once I got that right, the fun began as I combined fabrics to make them pretty.  I discovered the cute little wallet was a sturdy alternative to a paper envelope when it came to dropping it in my purse and carrying grocery and restaurant coupons with me all the time.  I made one for myself, then a batch to give to friends, and one for my Etsy shop http://riseaboveit.etsy.com 

Money-Saving Tips

Have something to say is a basic rule of writing.  A considerate writer respects the reader too much to waste his or her time.  So I have to rant here about the plethora of money-saving tips emerging lately.  Everybody wants to save money but if you are going to write or publish information on this topic, please tell us something new and something practical.  This stuff is repetitious beyond belief.  I actually read a column on reusing the wrappers from cereal boxes.  Huh?  Bad enough someone wrote this, worse no editor spotted it as ridiculous.  Is there anyone left on the planet who doesn’t know it’s cheaper to brew coffee at home or to brown bag a lunch instead of going out?  Can we have some resourcefulness and creativity here?

Becoming More Creative

When my granddaughter helps me cook, we call ourselves chefs.  It’s just a game, but one that makes a chore fun and this role-playing makes us feel important about what we’re doing.  It’s a very cool mode of thinking and fuels creativity.  Why not approach all creative endeavors as if we’re experts and cast off our hesitation about our skill levels?  Why not pretend while we work that we are what we wish we were: professional novelist, poet, fashion designer, photographer, artist?  Working as if you were an expert frees you to be inventive rather than just productive.  You push beyond following instructions to tell a story, tweak a recipe; make your own pattern.    

Reason and Rhyme

Should poetry rhyme?  A friend who writes awesome poems says she can’t write any that don’t rhyme.  Mine never do.  Today I noticed guidelines for a greeting card company that specify no rhyming poetry.....Somewhere in my office is a tattered rhyming dictionary I’ve owned since college.  Today I found one online at  http://www.rhymer.com/   You enter the word you want to find a rhyme for and a list comes up.  Experimenting with it is fun.  To make it challenging I typed in Chattanooga and came up with a long list of matches including cheetah, cola, and aqua.

Best Writing Advice



Shortly after my mom died I wrote a tribute to her.  Writing this essay was a discovery process born of grief.  Did I know who my mom really was?  I wasn’t sure, so in an attempt to find out, I began sorting my memories on paper.  My motivation was personal and compelling.  I can’t say how long it took to write that essay.  I sat at the computer and wrote until I had said all I had to say and until I reached a new level of understanding.  I was also in tears.  There’s a joy in writing what’s real and true and from the heart.  The traditional advice to writers is write what you know.  My best advice to any writer is to write about what matters to you.

A version of my mom’s essay has been accepted for an upcoming anthology, “Wisdom of Our Mothers.”  

Old Story New Twist



It’s a hackneyed storyline.  Power goes out.  Family plays board games by candlelight and while unplugged, reconnects.  Few people today would opt to give up electricity while many complain they waste too much time on electronic distractions and want to accomplish more.  Acknowledging this and changing habits are two different things.  The computer and television provide easy entertainment. 

In my quest to be more productive, I’m trying the waffle iron approach.  The waffle iron doesn’t come out of the cabinet unless I am making waffles.  My plan now is to maintain awareness of when I’m turning on the television or sitting at the computer, to stay away unless I intend to watch a specific program or perform a specific computer task, whether it is digging through email or serious writing.

I suppose it comes down to asking yourself if whatever you’re doing is what you really want to be doing right now.  Often a tough question.

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