Coming Soon…

Five more days to go and the countdown has begun! It still seems so surreal. An opportunity, a choice to seize that opportunity and here I am. I have to admit, I have had to pinch myself over and over. In fact, more times than not, I have told myself that it is no big deal, that it was just a fluke; I don’t have what it takes to keep the momentum up. Despite the negativity that keeps knocking, there is a part of me that is still getting revved up with excitement. Imagine the possibilities this could open up! The doors that I can finally walk through that I wish I had walked through twenty years ago. My imagination is filled with dreams and ambitions…my heart is full of prayers for God’s plans to be upmost.

Five more days to strategize on how to make the most of this opportunity. Five more days for the excitement to build.

Are you curious to know what’s going on?

In five more days, I’ll let you know…

Until then, thanks for joining and supporting TLC!

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The Heart of Grandma

Every Christmas, I unwrap the tiny nutcracker on his tiny prancing horse from his paper cocoon. Every Christmas I’m reminded of the special lady I called Grandma.

Loving, warm, quick to hug, quick to smile with her sparkling eyes, she was one who touched the hearts of many around her. I was proud of her-and I was proud that out of all the grand kids, I was the one who had the honor of decorating Grandma’s Christmas tree, for a time.

For many years, she had lugged the tree and boxes of decorations up from the basement into the living room by herself. But as time has a way of doing, she became more feeble. With a stent in her heart, hip replacement surgery, and knees that desperately needed surgery themselves, she could no longer bring the Christmas treasures up the narrow stairs of the basement and stand on the ladder she used for placing ornaments at the top of the tree. Since we lived within walking distance, she naturally turned to me for help. I happily agreed.

The first Christmas that marked the beginning of our tree decorating tradition was fraught with meaning for me. I was used to going to her house each year and seeing aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins, eating delicious food and noting the beautiful tree, but never had I experienced such a personal connection with Grandma and Christmas. There in the living room, she and I talked and laughed. As we pulled the Christmas tree out of the box, I noticed the branches with remnants of icicles from many Christmas’s before. As I attached a branch to the metal pole and spread it out, my thoughts took me to the previous Christmas’s in which Grandma had done the same. Carefully, I attached and spread each branch until there were no gaps in the tree and all was symmetrical and full. It had to be just as good as Grandma did it. I wrapped the strand of large colored bulbs, the kind that were hot to the touch, around and around the tree.

Next was the box of tree ornaments. I thought I knew her ornaments pretty well, but this Christmas showed me differently. As I picked each one up, unwrapped it, and hung it on the tree, Grandma shared stories of how she came to have that one, or how old another one was. There was the ornament made from olive wood that she had brought home from Israel and the little mouse with its fabric guitar that had been on the tree for as long as I could remember, and my favorite, the tiny little nutcracker on the tiny prancing horse. So many ornaments, so many memories.

I then pulled out the tree topper, a tall angel in a white dress that had aged to a cream color, her wings spread on each side of her. Gingerly, I placed her on top of the tree, ensuring that she stood straight and tall. Lastly, I draped the icicles evenly and carefully on every branch, making sure that all branches were covered appropriately. With pride, Grandma told me that it was beautiful; I had done a fine job. She plugged in the strand of lights and the angel. The beauty of the colored lights reflecting in the icicles and the dancing white lights surrounding the angel took my breath away. Now it wasn’t just a tree that I noticed at our Christmas gatherings; it was the expression of Grandma’s heart. I was humbled that I had had the privilege of being the vehicle for her expression that year.

The next three Christmas’s saw the two of us gathered in her living room, listening to Christmas music, relishing our time together. Then life happened. I moved and for whatever reason, our tradition ended just as quickly as it had started. She downsized to a ceramic tree sitting on a table since all of us grand kids were grown. It was never the same.

Many years later, in 2007, she passed away after a long, tiring battle with congestive heart failure. As my eldest aunt divided Grandma’s belongings between the siblings, she remembered our years of decorating the tree together. She wrapped an ornament, the one I loved most, in a square piece of paper and sent it, along with a Christmas cameo pin, to my parents to be given to me.

I don’t recall my initial reaction when I first received it but later that year, at Christmas time, I strategically placed Grandma’s ornament front-and-center on the tree. Tears spilled onto my cheeks as the memories of our four-year tradition filled my mind.

The tradition is still continuing, year-after-year, each time I unwrap the tiny nutcracker on his tiny prancing horse from his cocoon and place him on my tree; for it brings a flood of memories each season and, once more, I am back in my grandmother’s living room-talking, laughing and looking into her sparkling eyes.

How to Write a Great Blog Post: A Beginner’s Guide

Excellent tips for beginner bloggers. Check them out!

The Art of Blogging

There are more blogs in existence than ever, yet more and more people are seduced by the idea of sharing their thoughts and ideas with the rest of the world.

As a matter of fact, it does seem as if there’s a war out there. Everyone is fighting for attention, there are so many things to learn and master. So many social networks, marketing techniques. There’s even an awful lot of content on blogging itself, which makes it even more frustrating.

How do you write a great blog post?

I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t know the answer. Or would I …

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Lessons From Hobbs

Hobbs stretched his legs into the air and then curled his body forward until his head rested on his back legs, front legs spread out on either side of him. Inspiration hit me in that moment and I thought to myself-“Here he is, lying on the windowsill of the front window overlooking the road and neighbors and he has not a care in the world about who can see him and what they think of him.”

This then led me to thinking about my daughter who is in the middle of the tumultuous teen years. How many times I have heard the cries of distress-“Mom! I don’t have any clothes to wear”, even as I am looking at a pile on the floor. Or-“Mom, my face! I hate my nose!”. And then this one-“Mom! Not Walmart! Their clothes are cheap. It’s not cool to shop here!”.

I get it. It’s not easy being a teen in our self-focused society that bombards our young girls with the idea that they have to look perfect; but it makes me sad and angry that this is the reality in our world today. As a result, I see over and over the anxiety of teen girls as they look around and see the “other” girls who have the brand name clothing, the stylish, expensive backpack, the flawless skin.

As I watched Hobbs do his little yoga move in the windowsill, I made the decision to write to my daughter the lessons that Hobbs taught me in that moment.

Dear S,

Many times I see you distressed and feeling as though you aren’t good enough, that if you had the perfect nose or that certain brand then, somehow, you would become more cool.

I was watching Hobbs today being quite the silly boy and, as I watched, some things came to my mind that I want to share with you. I’ll call it-Lessons from Hobbs.

  1. When a fly is buzzing around on the front window, who cares if another cat is watching your crazy gyrations. It’s all about seizing the moment…and that fly sure looks appetizing!
  2. My fur is sticking up after chasing the fly? So? What’s the big deal? That’s what my tongue’s for. It only takes a quick second to plaster it into place. If that doesn’t work, then who cares! That juicy fly was worth it all!
  3. Speaking of my fur…you ask if I wouldn’t like a more cool, “what’s in” kind of pattern. I mean, well, that beautiful little orange striped coat on the lady was appealing but, hey, unless if it can help me get the fly faster, what’s the point?
  4. I have sour cream on my whiskers? I get to enjoy my treat a little longer. Yummy!
  5. Fred from down the road is looking my way? Now that is a big deal! He had better stay in his own territory or I’ll send him home yowling if he tries to cross the line. Afterwards, I’ll yawn, lick myself and take a little nap.
  6. What’s that you say? Snowball can jump higher than me and lands on his feet with more grace than I do? Yawn. I’m just after the fly.
  7. Now you’re bringing up the crush I had on Fluffy and how she snubbed me and went for Sambo instead? Again, yawn. No sense in “licking my wounds” and telling myself I’m no good; if that’s the way she acts then it would’ve been a waste of my time. There’s plenty of catfish in the pond!
  8. Just remember-what it all comes down to is…catching the next fly and loving the life!

Love,

Mom

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

Psalm 139:14

9 Tips for Writing Better Short Stories

For anyone who wants to hone their writing skills, here are some simple and fantastic tips

A Writer's Path

by Allison Maruska

In April, I was a judge for two writing contests – Dan Alatorre’s Word Weaver contest and Ryan Lanz’s short story contest. I was honored to be asked to fill the role once, let alone twice. And while I enjoyed judging great stories, I also learned a few things about how to make short stories better because some patterns emerged.

These tips can be applied to any short story, but I would pay closer attention to them if I were entering a story in a contest. Simply put, stories that didn’t do these things didn’t stand out as the best, at least not to me.

So, let’s get cracking.

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Church and the Shout-Out Lady

The following was shared with me this week by a friend who actually saved this short story from my original blog and sent it to me. I had totally forgotten about it, but it was fun to take a blast into the past and revisit an original story from the “Onemunchingmomma” blog. Thanks for sharing, Debbie!

As a child, church services were, overall, rather boring. I would tune in sometimes when there was singing, or when the preacher became more excited than usual. Otherwise, I would be in daydream land. But I never became totally oblivious for there was a certain lady I kept a close eye on.

She was a little elderly lady who sat on the middle row of pews, whereas we sat on the left row of pews. She was slightly closer to the front than we were which was perfect for me; that way I could keep my eye on her. She was a quiet lady…most of the time.

I don’t recall when I first heard her, but I sure do recall hearing her. I had gone off into a daydream state as the choir went on and on, when suddenly an ear-piercing shout reverberated through my head and snapped me out of my reverie faster than I could say “jackrabbit”! I jumped two inches off the pew and quickly looked in the direction of the source. The little, elderly lady was sitting in her pew with her hands in the air, lips moving. My heart was racing and the palms of my hands were sweaty, while my body tensed up again, awaiting another shout to erupt from the lady. But all was quiet again as the choir continued on, never missing a beat. I kept my gaze on that lady throughout the rest of that service.

Each successive service I made a point to look over at her quite often and I soon learned when to anticipate the shout-her hands shooting up in the air, her body swaying ever so slightly, lips moving. But no matter how hard I tried to be prepared, I never could refrain from jumping when the little old lady of Center Grove Baptist Church did a shout out to the Lord!

Ms. Norma

The following story I shared on my first blog about a lady whom we grew to love during the course of the ten years that we knew her. I will let the story say the rest.

The front door opened ever so slightly and one bespectacled eye peered through the opening. The eye observed me and the two clingy shadows on each side of me with intensity and aloofness. Hesitatingly, I spoke.

Hi, Ms. Norma. I am Sandy H. My husband has already been here to see the rental house and we talked on the phone…”, I said. The eye continued to stare at me unblinkingly for another second then, almost imperceptibly, the door began to swing open.

Come in,” she said in a flat, business-like voice.

We entered a spacious entryway that was graced with a vaulted ceiling, crystal chandelier, and on each side of the front door were stained glass windows. My little shadows stared with open mouths and wide eyes. She waved us into an office room and with little formality, laid out the rental agreement terms. Little bodies wiggled against mine.

We’ll take a walk over to the apartment and down the drive,” and with those words, she rose from her chair and headed to the office door. A little hand reached up to me and my son whispered, “Mama, I need to use the bathroom.”

Ms. Norma, may we please use your restroom,” I asked. She peered at us, then waved a hand toward the general direction. “Down the hallway, the door on the right.”

I headed in the direction of the bathroom with both little ones right on my heels.

My son didn’t want to go in by himself and little sister didn’t want to to be left out in the hallway by herself, so we all piled into the little bathroom.

As we shuffled out, I looked up and saw her staring at us, a little glint in her eye. “Does it take all three of you for one to go to the bathroom?” she quipped. I opened and closed my mouth, unsure of this bit of humorous criticism. “Well, they’re a little nervous what with this being a new place and all,” I feebly replied. She turned and continued leading the way to the front door.

From the moment that we drove up the driveway, I had fallen in love with the place. The two houses, a large brick home that she lived in and a gray barn style house, were situated among acres of trees making for a peaceful and idyllic setting. We headed over to the gray barn house.

Halfway there, I heard a tinkling sound and then a ferocious bark behind me. Turning, I saw a medium-sized black dog with a face reminiscent of a pit bull. My daughter, then two-and-a-half, began crying and grabbing my leg. Ms. Norma looked back at us and said, “He won’t hurt you.” But her words were not enough to soothe my daughter, so up into my arms she went. I too was a bit nervous about the ferocious sounding creature with his row of teeth glistening with each bark and growl.

Be quiet, Buddy,” she gently said to him. “They’re supposed to be here. It’s alright.”

We entered through the red door, climbed up a flight of stairs and stepped into a spacious living area. Buddy was right by our side, watching us doubtfully, his collar tag tinkling as we walked around.

After touring the house, we walked down the paved drive. Never had I seen such beautiful property. A thrill of anticipation ran up my back at the thought that we were considering living there. A little creek meandered through the woods on the right and left side of the drive. Further up, a bigger creek with steep banks flowed under a covered bridge. A tree-lined path led to a one acre field that was used for gardening.

I was sold.

We said our good-byes with a promise that my husband would give her a call as soon as we made a decision.

A month later, we moved into the gray barn house. The same weekend that we moved in, my grandmother passed away.

It was all that we had anticipated, but there were two things that bothered me-Ms. Norma and Buddy. The kids now had twenty acres to explore but my youngest was scared to death of Buddy and refused to go outside unless if I went with her. As far as Ms. Norma, I just couldn’t seem to break through the aloofness. From time-to-time, I would head over to the big house, ring the doorbell and give her the rent check or give her some cookies. The same characteristic opening of the door just slightly, studying me with her eye, and exchanging a few words occurred each time. When she deemed the visit over, without warning or goodbye, the door would begin to shut in my face. I took no offense to it, I simply determined to find a way to break the ice.

One day, it happened with Buddy. My son was already friends with Buddy and I was cautiously accepted by him, but my daughter was terrified. I kept pushing her to go out and pet him, only to have her cry. On this particular day, I was busy in the kitchen and noticed that Sedona was no longer in the house. I looked out of the living room and saw her outside with Buddy by her side. With her little hand, she was rubbing his back and head while he stood calmly, clearly enjoying the attention of this little girl. For the next ten years, he would truly become her buddy.

Ms. Norma, at about the same time, began to open the door a little more whenever I came over. We had longer conversations and even exchanged goodbyes before she would shut the door. The ice was melting.

It was three months before she began to open up.

Two weeks before we moved in, she had lost her husband to cancer. As she began to heal from the grief and open up to me, I discovered a caring, humorous, adventurous, stubborn and sarcastic woman who wasn’t afraid to say what she thought and who wasn’t afraid to share her home with others. To her, all friends were family and all people were potential friends.

She became my second grandmother.

Ms. Norma especially delighted in watching the kids. Sitting at her desk in the office, she could look out the window and see what antics the two kids were up to, or watch them sled when it snowed in winter. A twinkle would flash in her eyes as she would share with me how much it meant to her to see them enjoying the property. As time progressed, she often brought the kids random gifts for no reason other than love.

On a spring day in 2015, we received a phone call from Ms. Norma’s daughter saying that they had taken her to the emergency room after an accident there in her daughter’s home that left her with a broken hip. She would be sent to a rehabilitation facility after surgery and we could go visit her then.

Later in the week, we walked into the room she was in and there she was, lying in bed looking so frail, but still with a glint in her eyes.

After preliminary greetings, she settled into a quiet introspective mood and my husband and I talked with some of the family members. Half and hour later, she perked up again and began to talk.

“If I hadn’t tried to make friends with that grumpy old cat I wouldn’t be lying here in this bed right now. But I can’t change it now.” Her voice was thick with regret. She fell into a restless sleep.

I looked over at her son. “What happened,” I asked.

“Well, you know the cat that Jackie has?” I did. Just the other week, Ms. Norma and her daughter had been telling me about the ornery, mean cat that Jackie owned and Ms. Norma had mentioned then that she was determined to become friends with it. “Mom was visiting Jackie that evening and saw the cat sitting on the stairs. She went to the cat, stepped down on the first step and then reached down to pet the cat. As she did so, she lost her balance and fell down the stairs,” he said.

Emotions swirled in my head as I listened to the account-it was all so surrealistic, so unfair, so painful. All because of a cat. All because of Ms. Norma’s love.

But optimistically, I walked away. After all, surgery had gone well and she had been alert. She was going to be okay.

Two days later we were told she was put into a hospice facility. The coumadin prescribed to her to prevent blood clots had caused a brain bleed and she was coming in and out of consciousness. They didn’t think she would be able to pull out of it being as that she was eighty-two years old.

The next day, we went to visit her and as soon as we walked into her room, the change was blatantly apparent. Her face was swollen and not a muscle twitched. I had always heard that unconscious people can still hear so loudly I called, “Ms. Norma!”. Ever so slightly her eyes fluttered and she turned her head. This was a familiar greeting to her because many times I had walked into her house and called her name loudly due to being hard-of-hearing.

She reached a hand out and I took it, squeezing gently. She searched with her eyes until she saw the kids, then she withdrew her hand and closed her eyes, once more lapsing into unconsciousness. We left.

The following morning, she passed away and the pain of losing my biological grandmother was reawakened as we lost our adopted grandmother.

The family held an estate sale and we watched as people walked out of Ms. Norma’s home with pieces of her home, with pieces of her life. To them these items were new treasures. To us, they told stories of a marriage, of adventures, of an amazing lady who loved us so deeply and who we never imagined we could love so much.