Who’s Rowing Your Boat?

Last week I took my oldest daughter, her friend, and my girlfriend’s young daughter out on the river to do some crabbing.

If you have never caught blue crabs before, you should try. It’s a lot of fun and you don’t need a license in most places. All you need is some fishing line or string, some uncooked chicken (legs or wings) and a net. It’s a good idea to bring a bucket and a ruler if you plan on keeping crabs. They need to be 5″ from point to point to be legal here in Massachusetts.

We caught a few crabs, not very many, and as the day went on, the wind picked up. We weren’t far from the mouth of the river, so with the wind blowing and the tide coming in, our little boat was getting blown around pretty good.

I have been around the water all my life and maybe sometimes I don’t realize my age. I didn’t bother hauling a motor and rowed us out instead because I like the exercise.

The wind blew us about two hundred yards up river, our anchor dragging in the mud. About that time my daughter decided she wanted to go, so we hauled anchor and I started rowing.

A funny thing happened.

I rowed harder and harder, but we didn’t move. The wind and the tide were so strong that my rowing could only keep us in place. It was then I noticed the girls laughing, singing, and telling jokes. They had no idea that I couldn’t move the boat. I was getting nervous, thinking I might have to get to shore and pull the boat downriver.

I realized then that for many things they rely on me without giving it a second thought. They aren’t concerned at all about me getting them back safely because they trust that I will. Sometimes I guess we fail to realize how hard others are working to help us. I thought of all the friends I have out there recommending my books to friends, helping me  make a go of writing for a living.

That positive energy was what I needed to dig a little deeper and beat the wind. We got to shore fine of course and the kids never guessed how nervous I was about getting there.

So who is rowing for you?

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Are You A Good Witch Or A Bad Witch?

Remember that line from the Wizard of Oz?

A few weeks ago I visited the Salem Witch Museum with my daughters and some of their friends as part of a school project. Yes, we went in July even though school is out. My youngest daughter takes advanced placement classes and the requirements for summer work are outrageous!

The museum hosts a reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in which twenty people lost their lives. Most of those found guilty of witchcraft were imprisoned, but Giles Corey  was brutally crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea.

Sitting and watching the reenactment I was struck by how much our society has changed. In 1692 punishments were brutal and in Mr. Corey’s case unjust. Try to imagine how desperate Mr. Corey must have felt, knowing he was innocent while they piled heavier and heavier stones on him until he was crushed to death.

The proof against Mr. Corey and the others was the testimony of three girls who later admitted they made the whole thing up because they were bored. I like to think that we have come a long way in our criminal justice system, but I wonder what would happen if three different girls from a small town accused someone of crime. I have an inkling that we have a protective instinct toward young girls and that their accusations would be given serious weight even in this age of forensics.

When the reenactment was over we moved to the second half of the museum where the staff discussed the reality of witches. I had to laugh at myself when they played that clip from the Wizard of Oz. We see witches in the media dressed in black and flying on brooms. Even Harry Potter, the most modern wizard that comes to mind, flies on his own fancy, brand name broom.

The final thing that struck me during the tour was the word “pagan” and the meaning that has been assigned to it through the ages. Visit this page at Merriam Webster and look at the comments. There is a debate raging about MW’s definition of the word as an “irreligious or hedonistic person.”

I’m not going to suggest you convert to paganism, but the museum staff gave an interesting talk about how the church and the media have colored our view of witches. Institutions like The Salem Witch Museum  help us understand the mistakes of the past and how our culture has influenced our understanding of history.

What I am wondering today is… now that we have taken the power of information out of the hands of the few and spread it around to all of us, what mistakes will we make with this new power? And how will our ability to communicate over social media and blogs give rise to the Salem Witch Trials of 2012?

What things will our descendants look upon and remember how naive we were way back in 2012?


Do You Put Milk In Your Eggs?

This morning I made scrambled eggs to add protein to my MANday diet. While I cooked, I watched the heat transform the yellow liquid into something that seemed more substantial even if it wasn’t. I remembered my Aunt Ann and how she taught me to cook eggs by moving them fast over high heat.

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Notice there is no bacon in this picture!

Then I remembered something else. Milk bubbling along the edges of the pan. Remember that? For those of you who haven’t added milk to eggs, it was something we did up here in the Northeastern US to stretch the budget when milk was a lot less expensive than eggs.

That got me thinking about the ways our life has evolved. We used to do a lot of things ourselves to save money, but we don’t do that much for ourselves anymore. We have become so specialized, our talents so valuable, that we hire professionals to perform all sorts of services.

Two weeks ago I read Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing. This book has been around a while, but one of the things that really stuck with me is that there are more and more demands on our time. And that time and not things are becoming our most precious commodity.

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So much better from scratch!

When I was a kid, I made chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I still make them the same way. The difference being I do it faster now and a lot less frequently. But my kids make them from that roll of Toll House dough. I think mine are much better but they don’t seem to mind the tiny deflated cookies.

I’m the same with pizza. I make my own dough from scratch while most people buy a package of dough in the grocery store. Some of them call Dominos or Papa Gino’s, which might be the fastest way of all. They deliver almost anywhere! Sadly, I think Papa Gino’s pizza might be better than mine, but I enjoy making it.

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I do admit Papa Gino’s
Kicks my butt in pizza making.

So this morning while I ate my eggs I was thinking that I’m a dinosaur. I like doing things the old fashioned way. The best illustration happened a few years ago. I was clearing some land near my home. Instead of cutting the trees with my chainsaw and then pulling the stumps with a machine, I used hand tools to dig out the roots first and then I used the tree’s own weight to pop out the stumps. It was great exercise and it made me feel clever.

Note: Taking out stumps this way is highly dangerous. Please don’t try it yourself.

Today I had a glimmer of hope for bringing myself into the modern age. My primary goal in this blog is sharing thoughts that will help you enjoy life’s journey. If I can do that, I’m doing my part in this crazy, highly-specialized world we live in. I also did something yesterday to follow Mr. Godin’s advice and save you time.

I published this blog to the Kindle Store. Hopefully, the convenience of having this blog on your Kindle whenever it is published will save you time AND you’ll get my thoughts on enjoying life’s journey more regularly.

Maybe I’m a new kind of technologically savvy dinosaur.

What about you? What do you do the old fashioned way?


Do You Sing In Church?

I could be the worst singer in my small town, but when I’m in church I sing, albeit softly.

Looking around there are those who lead the songs. My mother was in the choir for over 20 years and you can hear her high notes above the entire congregation even though she is almost 70 years old. The pastor’s voice leads out the beginning of each verse to guide the flock and keep us in harmony.

Some move their lips. Others simply stand. Children fidget.

 

This week I was reminded of a few stories.

The first was the story of an auditorium full of people. The speaker asked “How many of you can dance?” Every single person in the room raised their hand enthusiastically. The speaker addressed a different crowd with the same question. Only a few people in the second group raised their hands.

It wasn’t that the first group was more talented. They were children. No one had told them they couldn’t dance. Thinking about this story I am reminded how often we want to do things but we don’t because we are worried about appearances. I’m guilty. I’ll sing in my car, or to my kids, but not in front of other people. I never dance unless it is a slow song. I might be saving myself a little embarrassment, but I’m also preventing myself from having fun.

That thought led me to sad one. When my grandmother sent my father to church, she told him not to sing out loud because he had a terrible voice. Could you imagine telling your child not to sing? What worse message could you send?

As years went by my dad outgrew her advice. If you are a regular here you know he sings Johnny Cash at all hours of the day and night. Fortunately he is starting to learn some new artists. Toby Keith is the latest.

Church singing also reminds me of my youngest daughter who is a lot like me. She was painfully shy when she was young. My grandfather used to say, “If it talks it’s Hallie.” That’s the way he told my girls apart. He waited for one of them to talk and then he knew my younger daughter was the silent one.

Over the years we encouraged her to participate in dance, gymnastics, anything. She was always on the sidelines until this year when she cheered for her high school football and basketball teams. I was so happy I could have exploded with joy. She traveled around in the flock of girls before competition, more nervous than I’d ever seen her, but when she stepped on the mat her smile lit up the room.

I was proud, but even more than that I was happy that she set herself free and took hold of a scary experience. The joy she felt during those games and competitions, being part of a team, giving her all, that can’t be replaced. She took a risk and in return she was blessed with memories that will last a lifetime. Since then she has tried out for other teams, really reaching for things she never would have done before. I am so proud.

 

Cheerleaders Pyramid

Back to church. There is a reason we sing. The words remind us of an important message and singing them is a visceral celebration. Singing with passion releases so much emotion (whether you are in church or at a concert) and yet so few of us belt out the words. We save ourselves embarrassment but the price is high.

As you visit this blog remember something a friend said to me, “You wouldn’t worry what other people think of you, if you realized how rarely they do.” Don’t be afraid to join the conversation. Get off the sidelines and leave a comment or a personal message.

Today I’m inspired to learn to dance and sing and I hope you are to. Let’s shut off our inner critic and revel in the joy of setting ourselves free. If you stand next to me in church next week you might even hear me sing.

 


Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell

One windy day in the 1970’s a woman walking home down a city street in New Bedford found hundreds of dollars blowing in the wind. The woman was in dire financial need, her husband hurt and out of work while she was staying home to take care of three young children. The windfall was more than enough to solve her current problems and seemed like a gift from above.

She could have taken the money and used it for groceries or the mortgage payment. But she didn’t. She took it to the police station and turned it in. Who would do that when she so desperately needed the money?

That woman was my mom, a woman dedicated to strength of character and faith.

Mom never let us win at board games, instead she forced us to play better in order to beat her. She never let us cheat the rules of a game or school or heaven forbid, the law. Reality wasn’t sugar-coated to save feelings.

Honesty - on Youtube

You could say I come by my honesty naturally or that mom beat it into me. I speak plainly and can’t hide the truth unless I’m playing poker.

This “gift” has made things really difficult for me at times.

Several years ago I was in a marriage that wasn’t working. We had lots of money coming in and a few people told me that I should start hiding cash just in case. Later, when I moved out, my ex closed all our bank accounts and left me penniless.

Well not, penniless, but I wasn’t headed for the Ritz. I had a part-time job and about $130 in cash that was in my wallet the day my bank card stopped working.

Some might think I made a huge mistake. Some people said, “I told you so.” A few thousand wouldn’t have been a big deal compared to what we earned and it would have been really welcome in those months I was destitute.

BUT… that was a relatively short period in my life. About ten months. And when I look back I feel good about what I did. I was legally entitled to that money and I could have taken some, but it felt wrong. And if I had taken it, my image of myself would have been changed forever. I chose ten months of discomfort over twenty years of shame.

I’m on the other side now and on the road to emotional and financial recovery.

My backwoodsy directness is unchanged and I can face my reflection without fear.

 

This week I was reminded that my folksy, plain-speaking ways catch some people off guard. Someone asked me for feedback on a novel and I sent it in two pieces. My email contained effusive praise and one minor suggestion for improvement.

What I got back in response was a worried, defensive message that assumed I was using praise to water down my criticism. The author saw only the criticism and couldn’t see that I really loved the work… until this person read my formal comments. And then, they realized that I meant what I said. Imagine that. I meant exactly what I said. I loved the work and there was one minor suggestion I thought could make it a breakout hit.

It seems in today’s world most people speak in hints. They think we need to let everyone win so they don’t feel bad, and that we shouldn’t tell someone when they’re doing something foolish. Conversely, when people speak to us we need to guess at what they mean, because they are afraid of offending us.

It drives me nuts.

I’m reminded of President Bush and all the heckling he endured. He spoke his mind on difficult topics in a way we could all understand and he was widely criticized for his candor. Personally I prefer someone who has the guts to tell me what he really means whether I agree with him or not. At least we could have an honest discussion. But lately I think that there are so many special interest groups that you can’t say anything without upsetting someone.

 

What’s a guy to do, never say anything?

Polished politicians (like Barack Obama) do a great job of walking the line of political correctness. But when they refuse to give a substantive answer to questions they send up warning flags for me. It’s obvious they are hiding something and it takes real work to figure out what that something is. I’d much rather hear straight talk than have to dig through a pile of hints for a real meaning. When I see a candidate dodging questions, I start thinking they don’t deserve my vote.

What about you?

Are you frustrated that people don’t tell it like it is?

Do you ever call them out?

 

 


Six Dollars Please

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Yesterday I went to the little grocery store in our one stoplight town. There are two stores to choose from, I usually choose the one my cousins owned until they retired.

I picked up a few things and came up to the single checkout line, my milk getting heavy as I waited. A woman in a red sweater, youngish with no ring on her finger, stepped out of line and headed back into the store to get one last thing. Her friend moved her half gallon of milk so I could put my gallon of one percent on the conveyor.

“Don’t want to squish those cakes,” she said and smiled.

She had two six packs of beer and a large bundle of asparagus. All she was missing was a good steak.

A cop from another town joined the line.  A sergeant who had already done nine hours that day. Behind him came a man and his daughter.

The woman in the red sweater came back and the line parted for her before she asked.

The girl behind the register was young, twentyish and really filled out her baggy Children’s Hospital sweatshirt. Her jeans were snug and slim and as I checked out the stud in her cartilage, I realized she wasn’t moving and looked ahead to the front end of the line.

An older woman saw me and said, “Hi. How are your parents?”

I had no idea who she was though her face was familiar. Such are the hazards of living in a tiny town where your family has been for over a hundred years. Everyone knows me even though I’ve been gone twenty plus years. They know I write books, have two kids, and am recently divorced. “They’re great. How are you?”

The cashier held up a lottery slip and told the woman she needed to pick a Powerball. She took a minute to comprehend, looking  around.

“I can type it in for you,” the hot cashier said.

I didn’t mind the wait. As you can tell by this post, I was doing what I always do, taking in the people around me. The crowd was building behind me, but there was no tension in the line. No rush.

The woman colored in the number even though it took longer than asking the girl to punch it in.

The girl operated the machine quickly, spun, and handed the the lady her tickets. She said, “That’ll be six dollars please.”

The woman fiddled in her purse. The two women ahead of me, the cashier and even the sergeant saw her fiddle and waited for her to pull out a five and a one or maybe a ten, but she folded her pocketbook shut.

“Hey, remember me,” she said to the woman behind her.

The woman with the beer was confused.

She said, “We used to ride at Country Stables. We did a lot of shows.”

“Oh, yeah,” the second woman said. “I used to have a horse for every event.”

They kept on talking. The cashier, the red sweater, the cop, the father, and I all waited. No one said a word. The owner came over and shared something about a winning lottery prize with the woman in red. At that point I was really glad I set my one percent down. I shared a smile with the cashier even though she was way too young for me.

The cashier said again, “Six dollars, please.”

The woman went on with her conversation. She was the only one in the store who didn’t realize she was holding up the line. She was old enough to forget, but not so old it was likely to be a serious affliction. Standing there, I was thankful to live where I do. Six people were willing to wait for the woman to eventually realize it was her holding everyone up. No one got rude. No one embarrassed her. When the girl asked again, she finally dug in her purse and this time came out with two bills and the line got underway.

When she was gone and it was my turn in line I said, “You had a nice little break there,” but the cashier wasn’t interested in my overture.

Like everyone else in town she knows where to find me if she decides she’s interested. And there is only one other store in town, so it’s not like I won’t be back.

I hope you enjoyed this real life portrait of the tiny town I live in. Sin and Vengeance and Addicted To Love both feature little towns that remind me of home.

Do you have the patience to live in a town like this?

Would you hold up the line? Or would you go ballistic on someone like this who was ahead of you?

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