Tag Archives: thoughts

The Homosexuality Contagion

12 Jul

I’ve heard a lot of anti-gay rhetoric.  I live in the Bible Belt where there seems to be a genuine fear that they are going to “catch the gay“.  There is a lot of statements about how people don’t want gays in their neighborhood, schools, workplace, restaurants, or churches too.  I have to assume that they truly believe that it is somehow contagious and they are afraid that they too, will become gay.

I have also read a lot about how people are gay from birth, as well as arguments that people are homosexual because of their upbringing, experiences, choices, etc.  I can’t answer those questions, and that’s not what this blog post is going to address.  I’m only going to look at the fear of “catching the gay.”

I have had a number of friends who were homosexual over the years.  I’ve gone camping with them, eaten meals with them, cooked and laughed with them, and on occasion, even shared a drink with them.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to “catch the gay.”

Guess what?

I don’t have a single symptom of being gay.

I’m married, I’ve had kids, and I’m totally comfortable with my sex life as a monogamous heterosexual.  I don’t feel threatened by gays, whether male or female, unless they are armed and specifically state that they are threatening me.  Of course, I would feel equally threatened at that point, regardless of sexual orientation.  I have to also admit that I have never once asked anyone who was threatening me with bodily harm about their sexual orientation.  It just never seemed relevant at that point.  The assailants that were known to me also happen to not be gay, so I also don’t regard homosexuals as potentially threatening individuals.

I’ve also heard that homosexuals are basically child molesters in training.  Thinking back to the years that I worked in law enforcement and corrections, I try to remember a single case involving a convicted child molester also being a homosexual.  Guess what?  I don’t remember any.  That’s not to say it is impossible, but I don’t think the two have anything to do with each other.

The next bit I hear is how the Bible specifically forbids homosexuality.  Well, sure it does, but the Old Testament has a lot of things that we don’t regard as moral or legal in modern society, like incest, polygamy, stoning, etc.  Besides, what happened to that bit about separation of church and state that is in our constitution? Or maybe the whole bit about “thou shalt not judge”?  Or even all that bacon, sausage, pork chops, etc. that America buys in the grocery store each year…that is forbidden too, if you want to get right down to it.  So, we’ll toss out that Old Testament bit, and the New Testament mostly talks about tolerance and love, and stoning homosexuals is definitely out.

I’ve also been told how the gay community and especially same sex marriages are going to threaten the “sanctity of marriage.”  When it comes out of the mouth of a man who has been repeatedly divorced or has been publicly pointed out for extra-marital affairs, that’s hardly going to fly.  Personally, I just don’t get the sanctity of marriage thing when 50% of marriages in the USA end in divorce in 5 years or less.  I also don’t see where having a gay couple who is married as neighbors is going to threaten my marriage, unless my husband was going to “catch the gay” (since I’m obviously immune to it.) I also don’t think that a gay couple’s children are going to “catch the gay” or expose my children or grandchildren to the risks of “catching the gay.”

Homosexuality isn’t a disease, and it isn’t a virus.  You can’t catch it.  You either are or you aren’t, that’s all.  Okay, there are people who are bisexual, but that’s another thing entirely.  I’m not addressing that.  Since I’m not bisexual or homosexual, I can’t pretend I understand how or why it is.  The only person that truly knows your own sexual orientation is yourself.

I don’t understand why people are so afraid of homosexuality unless it is because they have not addressed their own sexual orientation and find that thoughts of the same sex indulging in sexual behavior is arousing, and therefore is “bad” and must be suppressed.  I do know that my mother always insisted that those who persecuted gays were afraid of their own sexuality and sexual urges, which is why they became so angry and fearful when exposed to gays.

I think she may have been right.  I don’t fear them, I don’t find that they make me angry, and I do support same sex marriage.  I think it would be great for the economy too.  After all, most gays never have children, and have far more disposable income as a result.  That means that they will spend a lot more money on things like their weddings, anniversaries, homes, cars, etc. over the years than those of us who devote our lives to raising another generation.  Same sex marriages also means fewer children being born–which will mean more economic and educational opportunities for the children that are born into this world.  The same sex marriages will also probably pay more taxes over the years, as they will not qualify for the child tax credit, will be able to concentrate more on career advancement, and will probably make more money in their lives to be taxed as well.

Sure, they can adopt.  They can use surrogate mothers and sperm donors too. Some of them will have kids, and that’s okay too.  They will have jobs, buy houses, build neighborhoods, attend churches, buy goods & services and do all of the other things that other families do.  Why should I care if Johnny and Jane have two dads or two moms?  Why should I worry about their parents’ sex life at all?  Or any of my neighbors for that matter?

As long as they aren’t breaking any of the other laws we have, it doesn’t matter what orientation they have or don’t have.  It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter, nor should we even give a second thought to what their sex life is about.  I honestly have never gone to a PTA meeting and sat there discussing the other parents’ sex lives or lack thereof.  There are some things that I just do not care about. I also don’t worry about co-workers, other church members, the shopkeeper, or any of the other people I may come into contact with in the course of a day.  In fact, making me visualize such a thing about any of those people is probably going to leave me with an “ewww” and a mental desire to scour out my brain to get rid of it.

The world will be a much better place when we all quit worrying about whether or not everyone else has a better sex life than we do and we start concentrating on our own issues.

Just get over it.  You won’t “catch the gay” even if your neighbors are a same sex couple and they come over for a bbq one weekend.  You can drink after them without it happening too.  You are more likely to catch hepatitis or drug resistant tuberculosis, and neither of those diseases care what sexual orientation you have.  Their marriage won’t make you get a divorce, and your husband isn’t going to run off into the sunset with a gay guy because of it either.  (If he was going to do it, he’ll do it even if you have nobody that is a homosexual in your neighborhood.)  Your wife isn’t going to start lusting after the pastor’s wife either.  You are safe, honest.

You are seriously not that stupid, are you?

22 rules to get more real followers on Twitter

7 Jul

If you use Twitter, you have been bombarded with temporary followers that sport a blatant advertisement to induce you to spend your hard earned money to buy followers, usually to the tune of $29.95.

Are they worth it?

It depends on your goal.  If it’s just about numbers to you, and you don’t care who follows you or how many people actually read your posts, then it is likely a bargain.

On the flip side of that coin, if you are looking for engaged followers, which means people who actually care what you tweet, read your tweets, and maybe even click on the links you provide, then no, these ghost followers are about as useful as a chicken with teeth.  (That should give you some real nightmares, since chickens are a murderous lot and will kill & eat their companions when stressed.  Then, there are also the foul tempered roosters, who may attack if they feel you are threatening their harem and are already equipped with nasty bone-like spurs on their feet.)

Buying followers is a lot like buying blow up dolls to be the guests at your next party.  Sure, they give you a great body count, but their conversation sucks.

So, since you can’t run out and buy the kind of follower you need to make your Twitter account really pop, how do you do it?

It’s not rocket science, actually, and anybody can do it.  Here is a brief list of 22 things to do with your Twitter account to help you gain more followers fast.

  1. Post a picture to your profile and get rid of the universal egg.
  2. Fill out your profile–make it reflect who you are and what is important, while staying brief with your character count. Don’t just put your name or website, or even a series of hashtags–you want to attract followers who are interested in you!
  3. Tweet regularly, at least once a day.  It doesn’t have to be something profound, it can even link to your website or blog.  Just tweet something, for heaven’s sake.  It’s so sad to see accounts that are four or five years old, and have under 5000 tweets.
  4. Follow people who interest you or have similar interests to yours.  If you are a company or brand, then follow people who tweet about your products/services, from your area, or reviewers of similar items.
  5. When someone follows you, follow them back if they appear to be a real person.  There are a lot of fake or “bot” accounts that tweet continual spam on Twitter.  You don’t have to do anything more than look at what they tweet to figure out if they are a porn bot or continual stream of advertisements for various things, etc.
  6. Reply to tweets that catch your interest regularly.  Make this a habit to ensure that you tweet back to people at least several times a week. You can even have real conversations, albeit in 140 characters or less, with others via Twitter.
  7. Retweet other people’s tweets when they are interesting or relevant to your interests.
  8. Mention other people’s Twitter nickname when it is relevant.  It’s a kind of compliment, and it increases their visibility.
  9. Thank people via a tweet when they mention you or retweet something you’ve tweeted, even if it was just retweeting your retweet.  This is a kind of courtesy, increases people’s visibility on Twitter, and since people like to see their name, they are more likely to retweet other things in the future.
  10. Retweet tweets from people who have retweeted your tweets.  They like it, so they’ll retweet you more often.
  11. Read your “notifications” section daily.  This shows you who and when and what has happened while you are not reading Twitter.
  12. Avoid using DMs or “Direct Messages”, which are a kind of private tweet.  Never just automatically send DMs to others–it’s annoying, usually ignored, and many people will not read or respond to DMs.  (I’m one of them!)  DMs have become the hallmark of spammers.
  13. Do not become the kind of Twitter account that everyone despises–the unfollower.  These account holders follow people just until they are followed back, and then they unfollow the account.  It is rude, and many people use an app to show them who is doing this, so that they can reciprocate.  You won’t win friends with this behavior.
  14. Be prepared to spend some time using Twitter.  You learn a lot reading other tweets, as well as have more reason to interact with other Tweeple.  Most people will spend an hour per day minimum reading, retweeting, and posting tweets.  This can easily be broken into smaller segments of time, with as little as 2 minutes spent at a time, although 15 minutes is a more reasonable segment.
  15. Keep your language clean of obscenities, profanity, etc.  It offends some people, and may cost you some credibility with others.  (I am assuming you aren’t a teenager seeking to impress his/her peers here.)  Besides, 4 letter words are not going to create the impression that you are a brilliant tweeter with the 140 character limit.
  16. Don’t be a troll–nobody wants to be your victim, so nobody is likely to follow you just to be one.  Be pleasant, even when you don’t agree.
  17. Don’t post anything on Twitter that you would not want displayed on a billboard in your neighborhood.  It’s a public forum, not a private encounter group. That includes things you do not want your boss, spouse, parents or children to read as well.  Things you say today may also bite you five years from now, so even if you are single & childless today…you might not be that way forever.  If in doubt, don’t!
  18. Don’t be a Twitter stalker.  Stalkers anywhere are creepy, and you don’t want to frighten people away. Reputations spread via the internet, so if you develop one as a stalking creep, you will soon be tagged.  It’s great to admire someone, it’s great to tweet to them or about them, but if you are becoming obsessive about everything they tweet, etc., maybe you should step away from Twitter and seek some professional help.  Don’t do it to your ex’s either–it’s still creepy.
  19. Don’t get into Twitter wars.  They may be your ex-best friend, your worst enemy, etc., but getting into a Twitter war puts your reputation on the line and you won’t come out of it as a winner.  Drama is only amusing for so long, before no one wants to see your tweets anymore.  Follow your mother’s old adage! “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  It’s not bad advice sometimes.
  20. Be yourself. Everyone is tired of the fake people, the fictional characters, etc. that have plagued internet conversations for so long.  Very few people are rich, powerful, beautiful…and have time to sit on the internet all day.  Nobody buys that song and dance either.
  21. Have fun.  Relax & enjoy yourself.  Vent frustrations and aggravations.  Tell people about important things.  Find out about local events.  Find out where your friends are hanging out on the weekend.  Tell people where you went to get great barbecue or a good deal on tires.  Tell them about the lousy service from Company X too.  Get people to read your blog, check out your new book, or read the book review you posted.  It’s all good!
  22. As you increase your followers, your limits on who you follow are lifted as well.  When you reach the point where you have an unbalanced (in Twitter’s opinion) of followed versus followers, it may be necessary to unfollow some people who may no longer be active on Twitter or may not be following you back.  (Follow backs are not mandatory!)  There are also some less-than-ethical Twitter users that follow you just until you follow them back and then unfollow you.  There are  a number of apps available  that are free at least at the basic level that can show you these accounts and make unfollows a little easier and quicker to do.  Most will appear in tweets on your account at some point, and they shift and change according to how recently Twitter has changed their rules and code.  Try them to see which ones you like.

I hope this has helped demystify and make Twitter a little easier to navigate through.  It isn’t hard to get followers, by simply being yourself and interacting.  It isn’t instant either, and it does require some investment of time and effort.  As a result of this effort, you can have followers that are interested in what you have to say, as well as ones that are saying things that you are also interested in.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter, my nickname is @giascott.  I have less than 10,000 followers, and I have never paid for a single one of them.  I have been using Twitter since 2009, but until this year, I was guilty of being a sporadic user–I would sometimes go weeks or even months between tweets.  I also only use Twitter on my computer and Kindle.  I don’t use any apps for Twitter–I log in through a browser.  I don’t even regard myself as a Twitter expert, but rather as an “average user.”

Writing, as always

5 Jul

I’ve published a lot of small cookbooks in the past year, on a variety of topics.  They’ve been popular, too. So have the books about camping, whether it was food or other facets of camping.  The Time of Chaos was well received too.

Fiction, I have to admit, is my first love.  Even so, with my practical side, I really love non-fiction books too.  Most of my own books are actually non-fiction.  I’ve learned a lot from well written non-fiction books, and I’ve also encountered the sort that was written in “engrish” that wasn’t even worth the time it took to open the cover, digital or print.

Those really awful ones are kept in my mind as the example of “don’t-do-that”.  The file, I must admit, is getting thicker with time, as new editions of awful are filed away there.

But despite enjoying putting together the non-fiction books, it seems to be time to take some time and explore my own abilities and creativity.  I hadn’t tried to do a lot of creative stuff since my accident, which was nearly 5 years ago now.  It was partly out of fear, as I learned that my new restrictions had eliminated one of my previous pleasures from my future.  Some things, I’ve learned to work around, others I have been forced to gracefully accept as no longer possible.

I’ll never know the joy of swimming again, but I can still play in the shallows.  I can hang onto something floaty and kick through the water, with my life vest on.  Sure, it’s not the same, but I will live.

Today, I tried something that I have been afraid to try, even as my sewing machine sat there, just waiting.

I tried sewing.

I can do it too. Sure, it’s a lot slower and cutting out fabric is sheer agony.  Thankfully, I have a husband who is both willing and able to help me with things like that.  Maybe I’ll see about electric shears to make it easier.  I am making a simple elastic waist skirt for my granddaughter.  Once upon a time, it would have taken me about an hour to have cut it out and assembled it, with another fifteen to thirty minutes to hem it, press it, and have it finished.

Okay, I confess, I have to stop and take breaks.  A lot.  Sometimes its because I forgot some detail, like how to tell my machine I’m going to baste rather than stitch a proper seam, and I have to go read the digital copy of the manual (I have no idea where the original manual is now) to figure it out.  Sometimes it’s because I just need to stop and relax a bit.  Physical tension happens to trigger a lot of negative stuff for me, and apparently, I was getting tense today.

But I used to really love creating things with the sewing machine.  I often made my own patterns too.  This project, on the complicated scale, wasn’t going to push my limits in that regard.  It was going to be a simple project to see where I was going to have problems and give me an idea how to fix those problems so that I could do it again.

I’m ecstatic–I have faced a boogie man and conquered it.  I was afraid that it would be like trying to swim, only to discover that I absolutely couldn’t do it.  I didn’t want to admit defeat on this one, and I had delayed it so very long.  Of course, it helps that in this case, I’m not going to drown if I have to stop for a bit and come back to it later!

So, now I have a few budding projects in mind.  Two things that I’ve done a LOT of over the years–a specific (and rather simple) doll and customized dog coats.  I’m thinking that I may write a couple of how-to books for those kinds of things.

Hey, they are low calorie!

Yeah, that’s the other issue.  The recent muffin book was tough on us–that was a LOT of muffins to try, even over 6 months. It’s also summer on the Gulf Coast, and cooking is not my idea of a good time.  I also have another complication.

The day that The Big Book of A-Z Muffins was first available was the day our cook top died.

I’m now cooking on a camp stove until that issue is resolved.  Since a cook top is expensive, and I’m not even sure I want to have another one, it’s not getting an immediate replacement.  I actually would like to do away with the electric cook top and put in a regular gas stove with an oven, and get rid of the hated wall oven, aka “Easy Bake Oven”.  It’s undersized, not level, and I despise it.

I can also remember my Granddad’s saying when you figured something out and were finally able to do something right, “Now, you’re cooking with gas!”

I do prefer a gas stove.

So, without a “real” stove, writing cookbooks isn’t a very practical idea.  Of course, I could write a LOT of books about cooking with one burner.  Two years of our experiment of living in a travel trailer and years of using a camp stove when camping had pretty much perfected the art.

But I’m in the mood for something a bit more creative without worrying that my blood sugar is going to skyrocket.

So, I’m concentrating on the fiction for a bit.  I’m playing with sewing again.  Summer isn’t eternal, even in the South, so my aging dogs may appreciate some new finery for fall, right?

And I have a beautiful granddaughter who can wear it, as well as is old enough to start enjoying dressing her dolls.  My niece is expecting twins.  I have a nephew who has a beautiful baby girl too.  I used to love making 9 patch quilts in the throw/baby sizes, and they were another fast & easy project.

There has been a whole new world opened up.  That’s pretty cool, when you have had too many doors that slammed shut for you in the past few years.

So stay tuned.  Who knows what will be coming next!

 

Connecting with authors: the fan letter

4 Jul

Writers are a solitary lot.  They work alone, and while the picture of a solitary hermit hunched over their keyboard, chugging down vast quantities of beer or wine as they agonize for hours over every little detail is probably no where near the truth, they do in fact work alone in relative isolation usually.  Even those that manage to write with the chaos of their family swirling around them like the incoming tide around a rock are still working alone, without being able to interact with their peers. They pour their heart and soul into their manuscripts, then they are polished up, dressed in their finest cover, and sent out into the world. It’s a traumatic moment, sending that innocent and shiny new book out into a big cruel world, where it will be handled with carelessness, potentially tossed into a pile of books and forgotten.   That writer is its parent, and as a parent, agonizes over the launch of their efforts, until one day, it just happens.  It’s gone, forever condemned to the cruel pens of book reviewers.  A writer then prays for its salvation, that it is strong enough to withstand their assault. But despite this, the writer is compelled to begin again, and a new story is begun while the previous one is still involved in its own birth.  Still working alone, the writer may begin to feel that isolation, and wonder if anyone has really ever read their work, if it matters at all in the overall scheme of things, and even whether they are wasting their own time. Baring your soul and pouring out your heart is painful, and leaves so many writers feeling vulnerable.  After all, the world isn’t known for being kind and considerate, is it? But the fans are out there.  They read the book, they like the book, and they would like to connect with the author somehow.  But, all too often, there are a few things that prevent that fan letter from being sent.

  • The reader assumes that all authors receive a lot of fan mail.  (Not true!)
  • The reader assumes that authors are annoyed by fan mail. (not true either)
  • Readers do not want to be regarded as a creep or stalker.  (Most people aren’t going to take it to that level, but if you think you are doing that, maybe it’s time to back  off.)
  • Readers don’t know how to contact an author.  (more about this part later)

The fact is, fan mail is one of the greatest moments in a writer’s life.  Nothing compares to that first fan letter, unless it is the second one! So how to write the perfect fan letter?

  • Tell the author what you liked most about the book.
  • Explain how the book affected you, such as it made you laugh or cry, you had to stay up all night to finish it, you built your own space ship from the included directions, or whatever effect the book had.
  • Tell the author how and why you had originally bought the book.
  • Keep it short.  Authors have busy lives too, and it often includes things like a full time job and a family, with their writing done in their “spare” time.
  • Tell the author where you left a review.  (If you hadn’t left a review somewhere online, go do that before you write the author!  Authors love reviews!)
  • Type it up and send it by email.  Fan letters that are never sent or received don’t count!

So how do you find how to contact the author?

  • Start with the book itself.  Is there an “about the author” section? It may include contact information.
  • Search for the author’s website.  Many authors have a website.  Searching may be easiest if you use the author’s name and the title of the book.  Their website is likely to contain a “contact” page or form.
  • Look on Amazon for the author’s profile.  Many authors have an author page on Amazon, and it may include contact information.
  • Goodreads.com, a popular book review site, may also have an author profile page.  Some authors interact directly through Goodreads as well.  Other book review sites may offer the same or additional information.
  • Email the book’s publisher, asking where a fan letter to that particular author can be sent.  Often, it can go directly to the publisher, who will then forward it appropriately.

So, go do something constructive, like put a smile on an author’s face.  Make their day with a connection to the real world–their fans.

Book reviews: 7 hints for the negative review

3 Jul

Yeah, I’m a writer.  But just like everyone else, I’m a reader.  I also review the things I have written and sometimes, my review doesn’t agree with the others.

What then?

I review it honestly, and I hope others do as well.

Face it, some books have obviously fake glowing reviews–we’ve all seen them.  After a while, we also get pretty good at spotting them. That’s not the kind of review that anyone wants to agree with, but it’s also not exactly what I’m talking about either.

I’m talking about some obscure (to you) writer who has received glowing reviews about their novel and how innovative, subtle, unique, ground breaking, etc. it is.  Sometimes, all of these positive reviews set us up for disappointment, because when we read the book itself, it turns out to be so obscure, odd, and hard to get into that we never do get the point.

Then, we feel stupid or uneducated or just plain dull because we didn’t “get it”.  We feel as though we failed on the “worthiness” test.

But is it really us or was the novel so convoluted that it wasn’t our fault we never got the message?  Are the glowing reviews more like the case of the emperor’s new clothes rather than us being the dullard?

Review it honestly, state why you disliked the novel or found it tedious to read.  This isn’t grade school, there is no red pen, and you aren’t trying to impress a soul with your witty book reviews unless you work for a prestigious newspaper or magazine.  You do not have to buy into the emperor’s new clothes!

Unlike our school days, we’re not writing book reports to impress.  We are writing book reviews so that other people who are buying books can determine if they are going to like a book before they buy that book.  It’s not to leave spoilers either–it’s simply to give your opinion of why someone would or would not like a book.  Therefore, be honest, even if you feel like the lone dissenting voice in the crowd of masses who loved it.

Nobody is going to come to your house with a red pen and a glare over your review.

Sure, on occasion, you might get a comment or two about your review, and some of those might be snarky.  Snarky is cheap though, and books, even in digital format, really aren’t.

So, with that said, here are some hints for a constructive (though negative) review.

  1. Be specific about what you hated, whether it was the characters, location, weak plot, editing/proofreading or the narrator’s voice
  2. You are not attacking the author, and don’t make the review into a personal attack on the the author.
  3. Try to think of who would like the story. Maybe you didn’t fit that category and that was why you disliked it. Mention the category of reader  that you believe it was intended to strike a chord with.
  4. Never use profanity or slurs to make your point–it turns off everyone.
  5. Don’t take disagreement with your review personally.
  6. Be honest but remain polite about your opinion of the book and why it failed to be a hit with you.
  7. Above all, remember that authors do put their heart and soul into a book, so don’t shred the author just because you hated the book.  They may or may not ever see the review!

I need a break!

1 Jul

I have never liked my electric cook top & wall oven–they came with the house. I’ve often scathingly referred to the oven as an “easy bake oven” because it is under sized and most baking sheets won’t even fit into it. I wasn’t thrilled with an electric cook top either.

With that said, I did have something to cook on. As of today, it won’t work. Lights flicker briefly, then vanish and the burners don’t heat up beyond barely warm. (I can actually lay my palm on them after having one on for 10 minutes on high.) I’d say it’s broke. Not that it ever worked all that well, but it did get hot now and again. (Pancakes were usually either burned or anemic looking, for example.)

I’m not defeated. Camp stoves I have, and can use. After 2 yrs in a travel trailer, I’m the queen of 1 burner meals.

But dang, I’d like a break. We spent $1200 to fix our vehicle today. Couldn’t that stove top have hung in a few more months? I really want to replace the wall oven & cook top with a more economical stove (a stove costs less than either component does) but that means some kitchen renovations have to happen, which we can’t afford right now, even as minimal as we intended. (New vinyl flooring, new paint, removal of 2 cupboard units, installation of gas line, new counter top, and a new faucet) I hadn’t even priced what it would cost us to get about 10′ of gas line & a new dog leg for the stove installed yet!

So, I get to stare at a hated cook top, while cooking on an all-too-familiar camping stove, trying to stay upbeat, and most of all, trying to write–about food, as well as fiction.  It’s hot.  We live in Mississippi and I don’t do well with the heat and humidity combination anymore.  I’m grumpy and short tempered.  I despise the fact that there will be no reprieve from the incessant hum of biting insects and air conditioners for two months now, as our temperatures approach the triple digit level.

Sure, I could leave the South and move somewhere with a climate that was more agreeable, but I also have a husband. I also want to keep that husband!  He does not want to deal with snow ever again, and while shoveling it is something neither of us can do anymore, trying to convince him that there are places that get very little snow and that it doesn’t stick around long enough to need to be shoveled is proving difficult.  It would also mean leaving our daughter and granddaughter behind to the merciless heat, abandoned to their own devices.

Okay, so that’s a bit of melodrama there.  But, Grandmas tend to get melodramatic about their grandchildren.  I only have the one, so I get to go absolutely gaga over her!  We live an hour away, and I’d rather she lived closer instead of further away anyhow.

So there’s the bait.  I stay, even though July and August mean I’m largely housebound.  Early morning, while cool on the desert, simply is slightly less hot but full of biting bugs here.  My perfume of choice? Repel!  Yep, I’m adapting.  Not sure what the husband thinks of that as my favorite perfume though.

So, I’m looking at scrimping and saving for however long, to accumulate enough money to buy a stove, along with the rest of the work that has to be done to allow the installation of said stove.   While I could just spend enough money to buy that stove on just the cook top, it would still have to be installed.  I already have 30+ year old countertops that are wavy and peeling–installing a new cooktop into THAT is silly.  We can install inexpensive counter tops for a couple of hundred dollars.

I could give up the idea of a gas stove too, and just use the wiring that is in place to install  a new electric stove.  That would be an “easy” fix on the expense of the gas line (we already have gas in the kitchen, just not to the stove)  but, we still have to take out at least one section of cupboard to install a stove, which means we have to put in new flooring and counter tops.  When we’re doing that much work, we may as well get rid of that hated easy bake oven too, right?

So that leaves us just needing to paint and replace the kitchen faucet.  (Sink is fine, if I can’t have the style I want due to budget concerns)  That’s the cheap part, actually–I am certain we can do both for under $200.

I don’t want to replace the cupboards–they are vintage wood, and mostly in very good condition.  There is some damage from a wheel chair to the lower cabinet doors, but that can be refinished and will vanish.  The handles, which were replaced in the 70s from the looks of them, need to go away.  I’d like to replace them with some sleek brushed metal ones, another inexpensive weekend project.

Sounds easy and inexpensive, right?

Ha.

Murphy and his laws have been plaguing us for ages now.  Just when we think we have spotted a light at the end of the tunnel, something will jerk the rug out from under our feet and skid us backwards again. Things like $1200 mechanic’s bills.  Greg’s heart attack. Oh, the transmission.  Breaking equipment.

I just wish Murphy and his assorted laws would simply go on vacation, relocate, or find somewhere more interesting than our house.

Mother’s Day

10 May

I’m not able to spend Mother’s Day with my mother–she lives halfway across the continent from me.

I’m not going to spend it with my daughter either, although she lives closer.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t both on my mind.  I love them both, more than there are words to even express.

I’m a bit blue though too, as I think about long ago Mother’s Days.

I remember my Grandma W telling me all about what the flower corsages meant.  You wore one color if your mother was alive, another if she was dead.  I don’t remember what color meant what now though.  She was big on traditions like that.  Mother’s Day meant that soon it would be Decoration Day, which most of the country calls Memorial Day.  That meant it was time to start making the rounds of the cemeteries, putting flowers on graves.  It was a time when she would tell me stories about people who were long dead, stuff like how they died, or things that they had done when they were alive.  Sometimes, she would mention things about some extraordinary act of kindness they had done during their lives.

Most of those extraordinary things weren’t about spending money, or not much anyhow.  It was about simply being kind when they didn’t have to.  They lived on, through that act of kindness.

 

Funny how that works.

Then, my mind drifts forwards to my own adulthood.  I remember one year, my son was very small, he’d just turned two that spring.  My daughter was older, she’d be turning ten in a few months.  I was a single mom, and money was usually pretty tight.  I’d bought my own Mother’s Day gift that year, in the form of a cheap wheelbarrow.  I needed one.  My mom and I put it together with an adjustable wrench and a pair of pliers on the front patio.  We had then left the tools lying, and gone on to other things.

That next morning, the kids were outside playing, including my son.  I don’t remember what I was doing, so it probably wasn’t something important.  The next thing I knew though, my son had taken the tools and disassembled his wagon, a small metal red one.  We never did get it back together.  I was still impressed though.  He had learned how to use the tools from watching us the day before, and had put his new information to work figuring out how to take the wagon apart.  Not bad for a toddler, actually.

He died in 2000.  I still miss him.  He was my fishing and hiking buddy.  I still cry sometimes, and the grief will wash over me as fresh and raw as it was on that awful unbelievable day.  How was it that I was alive and he was dead?  My mind still can’t wrap around that.  It makes people uncomfortable though, so I generally keep that grief locked away tight.  I take it out for airing in private.  It’s just better that way.

I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.

Now though, I focus more on the future.  I have a granddaughter that is the light of my life.  She’s my little hot shot, the celebrity of our clan, you might say.  She is a miracle in my eyes, something I never thought I’d get to see, let alone hold her hand.  Her bright eyes light up when she sees me, and that alone is worth more than all the money in the world.

Her mother isn’t doing so well though.  She has Type 1 diabetes, and a lot of complications.  Her kidneys and her eyes aren’t in as good of shape as they should be.  I often make the trip to her house and chauffeur her to doctor appointments, as well as spend time with my little girl.  There is almost no chance of a second child, but we don’t let that bother us.

The little one absolutely cannot understand that her mama is my baby, and I am her mama’s mama.  To her, mama is HERS and HERS alone still.  Of course, I’m her grandma, and nobody else’s.  She’s right.  She is my only grandchild.

I was able to go on her first and second camping trip with her.  That was a riot, and something that I’ll always treasure in my memories.  Next week, we’ve got another first.  I will be going to her very first dance recital.  That’s special too.

I get to see my mother too.  She came for a visit shortly after the baby was born, and has come each year.  This year, she was here far longer than she had originally planned.  Her great granddaughter was very sad to see her leave, screaming “Great Grandma!” at the sky for days, as though she was hoping she would hear and come back.  She went home in March, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was wearing a pair of shoes that my mother had given me over a year ago because she didn’t like wearing them.  (We wear almost the exact same size.)  My granddaughter looked down and immediately informed me that I was wearing Great Grandma’s shoes.  We had to laugh, even though we were surprised that she remembered a pair of plain white tennis shoes from over a year before.  I guessed that the reason was because I never wear white tennis shoes, as I am a stick-in-the-mud.  I had worn the same pair of Keens since she was a baby, along with the same pair of knock-off Crocs.  It was the first time in her memory that I was wearing something different.

But Mother’s Day is more than about your own mother.  It’s about every mother or potential mother that you know.  It’s about your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your sister, your sister-in-law, your neighbor, your own mom, your aunts…about women, really.  Of all ages, all sizes, all shapes, all colors, and all types.  It’s a time to honor that femaleness and appreciate it.

Spend a bit of time alone and think about the women that helped shape you into who you are.  Some were related, but a great number of them probably weren’t.  Some were teachers.  Some were just friends.  Some were probably people who never knew who you were, like Billie Jean King.  She helped me become the woman I am today, and I’ve never met her, nor am I likely to do so.  She stood up and stood out, in a way that said it was okay to be different and expect fair treatment anyhow.  Watching her, I realized I could be whoever I wanted to be, not who society expected me to be.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pay the price though.  I learned about how painful standing out could be at an early age, and how to just grit my teeth and get through it.

I must have done a lot of gritting my teeth over the years.  One tooth after another has been sacrificed after cracking or decaying.  This year, I will be getting false teeth.  While I’ll be a bit sad, and I’m really dreading the pain of the extractions of remaining teeth, I’m looking forward to something I have not been able to do in years.

Chewing my food.

Funny how false teeth reminds me of my Grandma W though.  When I’d stay with her, I’d bring her a container of water for her teeth to soak in overnight.  On the other hand was my own mother, who had to have her teeth (which had no cavities at all) pulled when she was in her late twenties.  I remember the first time I saw her without teeth.  She had forgotten to put them in after showering and dressing, and when I said something, she clapped her hand over her mouth and ran up the stairs again.  I still have to grin about that.  Years later, she had to spend an entire day without them while they were being repaired.  She was mortified.  Now, she has to take them out at night, and thinks nothing about me seeing her without them.  Maybe its the difference in our vanity between being ThirtySomething and SeventySomething.

Corsages, cards, false teeth, wrenches, pliers, wheelbarrows and wagons…for me, they are part of my memories of Mother’s Day.

Most of all, I want everyone to remember to tell the women in their life how important they are to you, as well as how much you appreciate what they do for you.  Tell them you love them, treasure the moments.

Because one day, it can all vanish in the blink of an eye, and instead of a warm hug, you will be standing at a cemetery.  It really does seem that quick and they are gone.  I remember my grandmas, all of them.  My daughter remembers one of them, as the others had died before she was born or when she was too young to really remember them.  One great grandmother that I never met, my daughter did meet once.  I only knew her from stories from my mother, and I wasn’t along on that trip.

I look over our family tree when working on tracing our genealogy.   There are a lot of women there, women that are strangers to me.  I can’t help but wonder about their lives.  What were they really like?  What were their dreams?  What did they most fervently want and did they ever get it?  What made them laugh?

History.  Too often, its just HIS story, and we need more herstory.  Listen to the women in your life.  What is her story?  Tell your own story too.  After all, that’s what it is really all about, our stories weaving together to create a rich tapestry, and our mothers’ stories are interwoven with our own.

It’s about love and kindness, cruelty and dismissal, unfairness and justice, dreams, of watching  your hopes be dashed, or seeing them come to life.

Mother’s Day though, that’s all about the stories and the love.  Mothers give up a lot, even now, to be a mother.  Once, it was often fatal to bear a child.  That’s not true in most countries today, but it still is about sacrificing for the next generation, whether it is time, social activities, career advancements/choices, or even marriage.  It’s about putting that next generation’s needs above the current one too.

Maybe we need more mothers in Washington?

 

Random Acts of Kindness

29 Apr

You will often hear of random acts of kindness, also called RAOK for short.  But what is it?

It’s some deed that is kind and given without anticipating anything in return.  I look on them as a deposit in my karmic bank balance and payments on karmic loans, you might say.  I have been the recipient of many RAOK that were needed badly when I received them.  I have no way of thanking the person responsible, and in some cases, I never even knew who the person responsible was.  The only way I can repay for that RAOK is by paying it forward.

I’m not talking about big deeds, or even all of them being medium sized RAOK.  Most of them are small, after all.

But even the small ones have a cumulative effect.  Imagine it like this.

A flood is coming.  One man fills one sandbag and puts it in front of his house.  The flood comes, and that sandbag doesn’t stand a chance of protecting anything, does it?

The whole equation changes with small acts.  Change that story to the man fills a sandbag and puts it in place.  Someone sees it, and sees the empty sandbags waiting by the pile of sand.  She fills one, and puts her bag beside the man’s sandbag.  Many other people do the same thing, until they are running out of sand and bags.  Someone brings another load of sand and dumps it where the old pile was.  Someone else brings more bags.  Somebody brings hot coffee and donuts for the people filling sandbags, and more people come to help and get a cup of coffee too.  Before they know it, there is a huge wall built of sand bags and when the flood comes, the house of the man is protected, as are his neighbors.  Everyone is happy.

RAOK are like those sandbags, the empty bags, the pile of sand, the pots of coffee, and the boxes of donuts.  It all adds up.  Sure, the coffee and donuts didn’t fill any bags, nor did  they keep the flood at bay, but they still helped build the wall, because it made people happy, satisfied hunger, and made them able to work together longer.  It all helped, just  like each and every shovel full of sand helped, like each pair of hands that laid the bags into place helped.

It’s a case of giving that smile to that harried clerk at the store, it made her feel better, and despite a really rotten day, she was able to go home and be pleasant to her mother in law after work.  Her mother in law, surprised at the visit with her son and his wife going so well, comes home happy.  She’s asked for a donation to the local youth program, and she donates just because she IS happy.  That donation pays for after school programs that helps kids with homework, and because John Doe got better grades at school that year, he continued to improve and learn, ultimately going to med school.  As a research doctor, he cures diabetes.

Granted, it’s not an instant thing, and this example is highly accelerated, but…it IS a plausible story.  That would mean that merely smiling at that clerk ultimately found the cure for cancer!  Just for the cost of the small RAOK of a smile and compliment to a store clerk.

But we can shift that story around too.  Instead of smiling at the clerk, you verbally assault her for a computer error that caused you to be overcharged for a sale item.  You cause a big scene, and storm out of the store, leaving the clerk shaking and stressed.  She goes home, but has a fight with her boyfriend because she is in such a bad mood.  They break up, and instead of getting married to him, she marries someone else and never has children.  John Doe is never born. Her mother in law hates her.

Being simplistic, it’s now obvious that you, the clerk assaulting consumer, are responsible for preventing the birth of the man who discovered how to cure diabetes.

We don’t have to try to save the world by curing world hunger.  We start with smaller bites.  Our own neighborhood. Our own town.  Our own county.  Our own state.  Just do it.  Be a little bit nicer, give a little bit more freely.  Commit that small random act of kindness this week.  Imagine its ripples moving outwards.

It’s a great thing.

 

Swimming cats, babies in bread, and devilish tornadoes

1 Feb

Vivid dreams, especially of this sort, are noteworthy with me.  I just don’t have them that often.  This one was vivid and ranked fairly high on the Freaky Weird Scale.

It started off with three cats swimming in our bathtub, and me calling to Greg for him to come watch.  We were quite amazed, and the bathtub was certainly far larger than anything we could fit in our home.  I’ve seen smaller wading pools than this bathtub was–it must have been about eight foot long and six feet wide, as well as about a foot and a half deep.

Now cats can swim fairly well, but its well known that most don’t like it much.  These cats were enjoying it, and had gotten in for their swim of their own volition, which was curious.

Somehow, at that point, I ended up outdoors with Greg.  The sky was ominous, and there was an open field between our house and a cluster of other buildings, which included some houses.  There was also a lake or broad river behind us, and a couple of hundred yards along the bank from our house, there was a large underground structure which opened up on the water side.

All of this is important, as from the other side of this village or town, a massive tornado was approaching.  People were running towards us in a panic, and we were yelling and directing them all to the underground structure.  We ran along with the stragglers, and barely made it before the tornado arrived, completely destroying our house, swimming cats and all.

While I was obviously unhappy about losing my house, I was concerned about a woman who leaned back against a wall, somewhat exhausted and pale.  I was inquiring about how she was and whether she was all right when an older woman explained that she had just had a baby.  At that point, the woman laid a big loaf of bread wrapped in brown paper in her lap, opened the loaf, and was relieved to find her baby was sleeping contentedly.  I was quite impressed with the idea of using bread to protect the baby.

At that point, I woke up.  What was just as strange as the initial dream is that when I went back to sleep…I went back to that place, which is completely unlike any place I’ve ever known.  Our house was still destroyed, without a trace of the swimming cats or anything else–everything had been carried away by the tornado.  The town was just as destroyed, but I’m not sure where the people were.  I was walking around our former home, in the debris filled garden, when the woman with the baby in the loaf of bread walked past with the older woman again, still carrying her baby in the bread, although with its tiny face exposed and the brown paper wrapped around the loaf.

Pretty curious, that baby in the loaf of bread.  I have no idea where that could come from,  nor what it would possibly mean in terms of symbology either at this point.  It’s just…weird.  The whole impression was not anything like a hot dog or that the baby or bread were intended for anyone to eat, but rather that the bread provided some kind of special protection for the baby, while the brown paper simply protected and disguised the bread.

Protected from what?  Disguised from who?

Curiouser and curiouser, don’t you think?

Obamacare?

10 Nov

Everybody seems to be up in arms about it, either defending it or trying to destroy it.

Ideally, it would have provided something called universal health care. A basic level of health care for everyone, regardless of income. It doesn’t do that. But, that’s what conservatives were afraid it was going to deliver, since that smacks of “socialism” and they drag up old Cold War phobias to make us fear the concept.

So, what we really got was federally mandated health insurance.

Sort of.

From what I can find out, it isn’t universal. If you are low income, you are likely to still not have any health care coverage, so you are still regarded as one of the “leeches” on the system and the reason that health care costs keep rising.

From where I’m sitting, in Mississippi, it looks like business as usual, but great for insurance companies.

Okay, I went through the enrollment process.  The website everyone makes fun of worked just fine for me, and this was a couple of weeks ago when it was all new.  We were offered very limited choices to start off.  One company, that’s it, folks.  Reminds me of the electric company, we’ve got another monopoly going on.  Maybe we’d have had more options if we lived on the coast or in Jackson, but even so, we’re only 30 minutes from Hattiesburg now, and that’s one of the larger cities in Mississippi.  So it’s one company with two plans, and they don’t include the highest coverage, the platinum level.  (Not that it mattered, we couldn’t afford either one we were offered anyhow.)

The two lowest plans did not offer very good coverage, and it included a large deductible.  To add to the injury, the crappy plans cost roughly $850-950 per month for a couple.

The state of Mississippi, like a number of other states that have vocalized their dislike of the “Obamacare” Affordable Health Care Act, has refused to consider expanding their Medicaid program.  Likely it’s due to the impoverished state of the Mississippi economy to begin with.  After all, where would the money come from?

They are being generous.  They will not fine those below the income threshold, which I assume is the poverty line.  Whatever that line is, we’re below it.  So, it is status quo.  No fine, no health care, and nothing has changed at all for us.

But let’s do some math.  Let’s assume that a couple who is working 40 hours a week at minimum wage ($7.25 per hour).  That would mean that they got an annual gross income of $30,160.  They are paying an average of 26% of their income to taxes, Social Security, etc.  That’s $7841.60 leaving them with $22,318.40.   Let’s say that they select the lowest cost plan at $850 per month.  Their annual costs will be $10,200.  That leaves them with $12,118.40.

That sounds reasonable, right?  Surely they can live on that, right?

Well, let’s experiment.  The average rent is about $600 per month, totaling $7200.  Their annual income is now down to just $4918.40.

But, they have to get to work, and most of Mississippi doesn’t have mass transportation of any kind.  They don’t live close to work, but they are careful with managing their lone vehicle so they are both able to get to and from work.  Even so, they average 25 miles round trip each day, their vehicle is older so the annual cost of license and tags, combined with the inspection, totals to just $45 per year.  They carry the minimum insurance, but it still costs $90 per month.  Being an older  vehicle, it also does not get good gas mileage, coming in at only 20 mpg, at an average cost of $3.15 per gallon.  It also requires two annual oil changes, which cost $35 each, for another $70 per year.  On average, they have to buy tires every fourth year, which cost $400, adding another $100 to their annual expenses.  They pray it does not break down, as they are already spending a lot on their transportation, a grand total of $2732.19.  That leaves them with $2186.21.

But, remember, they are still left with bills to pay for utilities, clothing expenses, and their grocery bill.  The real problem is that after getting their affordable insurance, paying their rent, and getting to and from work, they are left to figure out how to survive on $182.18 per month.

That won’t even cover their utilities, let alone let them cover their deductible, pay a co-pay, or buy a prescription.  They won’t be able to eat either.

But, a couple earning minimum wage, in the eyes of many, is not below poverty level.

I’m not seeing anything affordable in this.  I’m not seeing anything resembling universal health care either.  I damn sure don’t see anything resembling socialism in it. The only ones who are actually going to have health insurance are the same ones that have it now, barring the ones who can afford it but are too cheap to pay their portion of the premium for their families through the plan offered by their employer.

I can remember those people well.  Back in the “good old days” when I had an employer that offered health insurance and treated their employees as though they were a company asset (like good companies do), we had a giant hike in our health insurance premiums.  They had a meeting with all of us, explained what was happening and why, as well as what their options were in terms of offering us health insurance plans.  They listened to us, then came back with an option.  The costs of extending insurance coverage to our families was going to have to be deducted from our paychecks, and we could elect to have coverage if we so desired.  I desired–I had a kid with a chronic health problem (she was a type 1 diabetic who was often in the hospital).  My co-workers, knowing that I paid about half of my paycheck to health insurance, asked me how I could afford it.  For me it was simple.  I could not afford to NOT have it.  There is a vast difference in the kind of health care one receives with health insurance versus without it, and I had witnessed it first hand.

I also had pretty good insurance.  I didn’t have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.  Sure, I had a co-pay at the doctor’s office, as well as for prescriptions, but it was reasonable and affordable.  I didn’t have big bills for the hospital stays, and I had both dental and vision coverage as well.

Even if I could afford the insurance plans offered via the so-called Obamacare plan, neither of them included dental or vision insurance.  The co-pays were reasonable, but the deductible was a serious issue.  So was the percentage of coverage on procedures and hospitalization.  With only 60% coverage on these things, how is someone with $182.18 per month to pay utilities and groceries out of, going to pay even a $1000 procedure (far less than a single emergency room visit) which is going to cost $400 out-of-pocket.

The Affordable Health Care Act may have had some great intentions, but some how, along the way, it got left with loopholes and giant black holes that once again put insurance corporations into the drivers’ seat leaving the rest of us clinging to the bumper and terrified.  The worst part is, it hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  We have sticker shock, as well as discovering that we’re ordered to choose from models X, Y and maybe model Z for health insurance, but we’re standing here realizing that the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet.  What kind of problems are waiting to appear?

We, as a population, has little faith in the government in general and even less in the federal government.  It’s notorious for favoring those with mega-money and tromping on the little guy without regard for the welfare of the masses.  It’s all about special interest groups, with an ample seasoning of mismanagement and bureaucratic red tape.

It seems that there is only one escape from the tyranny of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Get elected to Congress.

Yep, they were smart.  They made sure none of them would ever have to deal with this monstrosity that is neither affordable nor healthy.

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