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Tinkering

April 24, 2017

At dinner the other night, several friends bemoaned how their grandkids don’t tinker. They don’t take their toys apart. They aren’t interested in how their bicycles work. They don’t ask how things work.

One of my friends thought it was because of the electronic toys they have. After all, you can’t take an iPad apart.

He has a point. Intellectual curiosity now runs toward how apps work, how many levels of a game someone has achieved, how much music can be packed into an iPod.

Back in the day when dinosaurs walked the earth and dirt was young, kids took things apart. Everything. If they wanted to know how their bedside clock worked, they took it apart. Sometimes, they even put it back together correctly. Most often, either Dad stepped in to refit part A into slot B, or Mom threw the mess out. Getting greasy in the garage with Dad learning how to oil a lawnmower was a rite of passage. Making a mess out of a kitchen learning how to make chocolate cookies was more fun than unwrapping a tube of chilled dough and slicing it.

My grandson wants to know how his games are made. Not his board games, although he is curious about them. He wants to know how his electronic games are made. His father explained about writing apps using computer code. He may design the next great gaming app, or send a rocket to Mars, or figure out how to make you credit card tamper-proof. Now, he wants to go to a programming camp this summer. His mom hasn’t told him that everything he wants to learn requires a background in math. She’s keeping that secret for a while longer. He’s not going away to computer camp this summer,though. He’s six.

His younger brother is more interested in taking toys apart, mostly his brother’s toys.

I wonder what will happen if the older brother writes programs and the younger brother learns to fix things with his hands. It will be interesting to watch.

###

Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery. She has a new short story, “Midnight in the Church of the Holy Grape,” in 50 Shades of Cabernet. Her works have appeared in several anthologies and on NPR.
Featured, Lifestyle

Oil

April 17, 2017

When did oil become a cult substance? I mean, when did we suddenly need a gazillion oils in order to cook anything?

I checked my kitchen this morning to see if I had a certain oil a recipe I want to try called for. Nope, no rapeseed oil. I found three kinds of olive oil, walnut oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil (both fragrant and not), corn oil. What shocked me was that I use all of these for different dishes. Grapeseed and walnut are perfect for two different home-made salad dressings. Fragrant sesame for stir fry.

When I was a kid, my grandmother, who did most of the cooking for a single working mom and a kid (me), had at most two kinds of oil. Wesson was the oil of choice for frying anything. Crisco was for baking, especially for rubbing about a cake tin to keep the batter from sticking. She’d save bacon drippings in a can she kept on the stove. When she fried eggs, they always sizzled in bacon fat. Today, I can’t imagine how rancid it must have been, but we all survived. My grandmother didn’t need anything else. I remember her food tasting great.

As I grew and began cooking for myself. the first things I cut out were Crisco and bacon drippings. I started learning about food about the time I started learning about wine. That’s a different story. So, friends introduced me to many of the oils that stock my pantry.

Fragrant sesame oil added zing to Chinese stir fries. And there was a cold Japanese noodle dish that was perfect only when a single drop of sesame oil fell into the dipping sauce.

Grape seed and walnut oils came into the pantry because recipes said they couldn’t, absolutely could NOT, be made without them. The recipes lied. For years I made them without grape seed or walnut oils. No one knew the difference.

And now, there are gourmet shops that sell nothing but fancy oils and vinegar. I didn’t count my vinegar bottles, but I know I have more of them than I do oils. Again, each came when I needed a special vinegar for a recipe.

One oil was essential when I was growing up. Both my mother and grandmother used Johnson’s Baby Oil on their faces and hands to keep them soft. I would mix baby oil and iodine to enhance sun tanning. No sun block for this California kid. Baby oil helped my skin burn. Iodine helped dye it darker. Our homemade answer to Coppertone, which I couldn’t afford.

So, when did oils become a cult substance? And don’t get me started on essential oils. That’s a whole different cult.

What about you? Do you have a houseful of oils?

 

Featured, Lifestyle, Stress, Writing

Frazzled

March 20, 2017

That’s the adjective that defines me right about now. As usual, I have too much on my plate, too little of me to get everything done, and too little time to finish my daily priorities.

I started the year with a reasonable to-do list and a clean desk. Virtually every day, some “crisis” pops up to derail the day’s tasks. Last week, it was Go Daddy calling to let me know that the version I’m on for my writer’s club was no longer going to be supported. Well, now. Okay. Hmm, let’s see. My last webmeister left the club two years ago. The one before that left three years ago. I dug through tons of files to find the password. Should be easy peasy to transfer the website to the new format, huh. At least that’s what the nice man at Go Daddy told me. All would have been well had the template we used fit ANY template in the new version. I tried several before realizing I had to transfer page by page, add pages to manage some of the content, etc. I figured that if I preserve the content, I can make the site workable when I have time to think about it. Yeah, right. When I have time to think about it. Like next century. And I will NOT stay as the webmeister.

I am the webmeister for an arts council. My problem last week was getting a button to display the right price for tickets to an event. No matter how I tried to fix it, the darned button kept displaying the wrong price. I finally asked a friend to see if he could figure out what was going on. Seems like an artifact from a different button stepped on the html — oh, hell, you don’t care about code and stuff like that. Leave it to say, I turned around three times, spit over my left shoulder, and scratched my left ear with my right big toe. Yup, things magically fixed themselves. That, and removing that errant fragment manually.

Couple in the release of an anthology last week and I’m behind the schedule for getting my signings set up. I have several, but need more. I’ll be busy calling locations where I usually sign books to get some time.

And I’m in the last readings/edits for my next novel. All comments are back from beta readers, my editor has offered final suggestions on places that don’t work, and I am almost, but not quite, on schedule to deliver the manuscript to my publisher.

After all that, I’ll tackle the in-floor, where all the things from the clean desk ended up.

Hope you are having a good day.

 

Featured, Gal Pals, Grief, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Trauma

Crying Towels

March 13, 2017

The scene is set for an interesting eavesdropping opportunity. One woman sits alone in a coffee shop, her latte beside her, a book in her lap. Across from her sit two women engaged in a conversation loud enough to force the eavesdropper to, well, eavesdrop.

One of the pair begins a monologue about how last year was a disaster. She catalogs too many travails for the eavesdropper to remember; however, said eavesdropper hears a series of problems ranging from a husband having an affair, the wife having a retaliation affair, a dog dying of old age, paint peeling on a ceiling in an unused bath, forgetting where she put a book she was reading, etc. The eavesdropper notices that all travails, trivial or serious, are delivered with the same amount of drama and angst. The captive listener does little more than nod. When the second woman tries to break into the monologue, the first woman plunges ahead, seemingly oblivious of what her friend wants to say. Half an hour into the coffee “date,” the talkative woman stands and leaves, saying, “That’s enough about me. See you next time.”

The eavesdropper is exhausted. She imagines the friend is too. She looks at the friend, who has a tear in her eye. She smiles and receives a watery smile in return. The eavesdropper feels the need to comment.

“Your friend certainly has her share of difficulties.”

“She does. And she doesn’t mind who knows about them. I invited her to lunch to tell her about my brother, but she had no time to listen.” The woman wiped a tear.

“Would you like to tell me?”

Her brother had been diagnosed with a rare disease and has weeks to live. She hoped her friend would offer support.

“This may not help, but a few years ago I was in a support group where each of us was experiencing life-changing events. The leader handed out a small white towel he said was a crying towel and a marker to each of us. He asked us to write all of the problems facing us. We then read them to the group. Like your friend, some had multiple problems, all given equal importance. Others had a single, or at most two, life-changing challenges. We exchanged towels.”

“How did that help?” the woman asked.

The eavesdropper found a clean napkin and wrote, “My sister had a miscarriage. I’m struggling with grief.” She handed it to the woman sitting opposite.

The woman looked at the napkin. Then, she picked up one of her own and wrote, “My brother has ALS. We’re estranged. I don’t know how to reach out and help him.” She handed the napkin over.

“I accept your problem as my own,” the eavesdropper said. “If I may, let me be your sister and help you through your crisis.”

The woman wiped a last tear. “And I’ll help you with your grief, sister. Are you free for coffee next week, same time, same place?”

“I am,” the eavesdropper said. “I look forward to hearing more about your brother and what else is going on in your life.”

Sometimes, crying towels are full of trivia. Sometimes, they are full of human drama. And always, they need is a friend to share them.

Featured, Lifestyle, Mothers, Poetry, Writing

Three Weeks

February 15, 2017

Every year on February 15, I run this poem somewhere. It might be on FB, on Wattpad, here on my blog. Why? Because on February 15, 2004, my dear mother passed away after a short illness. Her small-cell lung cancer was swift and painful. The hospice nurses and doctors took good care of her and allowed me to stay with her day and night. I held her hand the day she passed.

I’m a writer. It’s how I make my living, how I express myself. And yet, I couldn’t write about Mom’s death. It took six years and 24 minutes to write this poem: six years to get ready and 24 minutes to put the words down on paper. In the years since, I changed a single word. I’ve been lucky. Two anthologies, Voices from Smith Mountain Lake and Candles of Hope chose to publish it. NPR encouraged me to read it on the radio.

Now, I’m sharing it with you.

THREE WEEKS

I thought we’d have more time.

 

She lived with us after it was too hard to live alone.

She had her chores, self-imposed.

She laughed, chattered, kept us happy.

She was a pain in the ass, sometimes.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

She said she didn’t feel right one afternoon.

No, she’d never felt exactly like that before.

Is it pneumonia?

No.

Is it bronchitis?

No. It’s different.

Do you want to go to the emergency room?

It’s icy out. I’ll see how I feel in the morning.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

It’s still icy but I think we need to go, she said.

Okay. I put the ready-bag in the car.

It’s pneumonia, they said.

Let’s get some x-rays.

Yes. It’s pneumonia. There’s fluid.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

The biopsy said different.

Dr. Elizabeth called it cancer.

Too far along. No real treatment.

Too tiny at 81 pounds.

Too old at 81.

How long, she asked.

Not long.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

One option, Dr. Elizabeth said.

Hospice.

She thought about it and decided.

Hospice. No heroics.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

We were together every day.

I read to her when she couldn’t hold a book.

Role reversal from childhood.

I listened to her stories, told so many times before.

I told her my dreams, my hopes.

She told me hers.

Wayposts to guide my way forward.

We shared more deeply than ever before.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

Days passed.

Stories, until she couldn’t speak.

Then hand squeezes.

Smiles in between lengthy naps.

I stored the moments to turn into memories.

Later.

I told her I loved her.

Hand squeeze.

I told her she’d done a good job.

Hand squeeze.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

I told her, her job was done.

Tight hand squeeze.

I told her she could go when she was ready.

Double hand squeeze.

She opened her eyes and looked at me.

One last smile, one look upward.

She was gone.

 

Three weeks from “it’s cancer” to death.

 

Mom,

I

thought

we’d

have

more

time.

 

I miss my mother every damned day. If your mother is still with you, hug her. Tell her you love her. She’ll never forget it.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Rejecting What I No Longer Accept

February 6, 2017

Last week I wrote about the conundrum I faced growing up. I loved my dear grandmother, but as I came to adulthood, I realized how she didn’t like anyone who wasn’t white. No other way to say it. She didn’t like minorities. And she didn’t like me having minority friends. On the other side was my mother, who had also grown up under the influence of that same woman and who didn’t care what color someone was if she was a good person. True, she mostly lived in white communities, but she also had a black brother-in-law, a wonderful man whom my grandmother never accepted into the family.

At college I came into my own where race was concerned. Yes, it was in the Sixties when the world was set on end. We all had our causes: feminism, racial equality, ending the war in Vietnam, saving baby seals. When we were marching, I didn’t realize how many different ethnic groups marched beside me until I saw pictures of the crowd in the papers or on television. We were united by our causes, not divided by our racial or ethnic backgrounds.

My grandmother had been long gone when I dated the rainbow coalition in college. Japanese. Chinese. Vietnamese. Black. Mexican-American. Apache. I’m sure she would have banished me from the family as she had her own daughter. It was my choice. I didn’t consciously decide to date non-whites, but I hung out with them all the time. From study dates onward, we were thrown together. Sometimes romance happened; sometimes lust happened; other times friendship happened.

Fast forward to today. A month ago I was listening to a piece on NPR about racism. Three colleges were offering courses in the subject. I nearly drove off the road. In a political climate where anger is seemingly the new normal, I couldn’t fathom anyone teaching or taking a course in racism. Was it a how-to course? The more I listened, the more fascinated I became. These courses were a combination of self-awakening, New Age philosophy and a bit of a 12-step program. The goal was not to teach us how to be racists, but how to recognize our own racist tendencies.

On the first day of class, the teacher stood before his students and declared, “I am a racist.” He proceeded to talk about things he did routinely that show some kind of bias. Students told their own stories. The goal was to open minds to what we do or think that is subtle. Once we were aware of what we do, we could change or not. The choice was ours. I raced into the house and wrote down several things I do that are racist without me being aware of them.

  • In large cities, I cross the street if I see a group of young black men with pants dragging on the ground coming toward me.
  • When driving through poor or minority neighborhoods, I remember to lock my car doors when I seen a young man walking along a sidewalk.
  • I take pride in “having friends of all colors and nationalities.”
  • I laugh at people who make racial distinctions. One example, a man talked about an Indian shop. Another man asked if he meant dots or feathers. I thought it was funny until I realized it wasn’t.
  • I look at working men wearing camouflage jackets and think “redneck,” as if being a redneck is someone I wouldn’t want to know.

I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Until I listened to that NPR story, I might never have consciously been aware of how racist some of my actions are. Yes, you’ll say I’m keeping myself safe or just being prudent, but I know that if I saw a group of white young men with their pants on the ground, I probably wouldn’t cross the street.

I have a wise Facebook friend, Ron LeBarton, who writes about some of these issues in The Good Men Project. His latest article is about white people becoming part of the solution. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/being-part-of-the-solution-wcz/

I’m ready to be part of the solution. Grandmother, I reject your early teachings. You were wrong, but I still love your memory of everything else you taught me. Mom, you showed me color didn’t matter. My friends at UCLA reinforced this. And now it’s time for me to stand with other white people for equality for all.

 

Featured, Freedom of Expression, Lifestyle, Mothers, Writing

Conflicts

January 30, 2017

I missed last week because I was away on vacation. No, I don’t announce it on social media or send pics from places I visit while I’m gone.  Just don’t, because I don’t want to advertise when I’m away and my house is watched by neighbors and my alarm company.

I had a lot of time to think about whatever floated across my mind. One thing that kept coming back was memories of my childhood and youth when I was growing into an awareness that people are different. The fact that different people are pretty cool came later.

Going way back, my grandmother used to walk me to kindergarten every day. One mile each way (in California, so not walking uphill in snow both ways barefooted), wide sidewalks, and plenty of other parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters walking the kids safely to the elementary school. My grandmother was a warm woman who would speak to fellow parents and grands. Over that first year, however, I gradually realized she never smiled at or spoke to the few black parents whose children went to my school. One little girl was my friend in kindergarten, but I don’t remember my grandmother ever greeting her mother.

When I came home and chattered about my day to my single, working mother, my grandmother would raise her eyebrows if I mentioned  the black girl’s name. Her frown, her slightly pursed lips, her averted eyes told me that she disapproved of something. At four and a half, I didn’t know why what I said upset her, but something did. I tried to be a good girl, but it was so hard when I realized she didn’t like my little friend.

Elementary school gave way to junior high (now called middle school) and eventually to high school. By then, we no longer lived with my grandmother, but her disapproval stuck. Living in California is like living in a huge ragout of races and ethnicities. My classrooms had a lot of Hispanics and Asian kids. I just thought of them as friends, not as my Japanese friend, or my Mexican friend, or my black friend. But, somewhere in the darker recesses of my mind, my grandmother’s disapproval remained.

By high school I was no longer living in Southern California but is a smallish town in Colorado out on the prairie. I cannot tell you how out of place I was. I entered a structured community that had two, count them two, Japanese families and three Chinese families. The Chinese families were stereotypes, running laundries and restaurants. All Mexicans were assumed to be illegal and were looked down on, even though they might have been the third or fourth generation ranchers on this prairie land. I talked with two girls on the bus my first day, only to be taken into the counselor’s office and told that I needed to watch who I sat with. There seemed to be an unwritten code that white girls didn’t sit with brown girls. Well, now.

And that was my exposure to racism in my formative years. I didn’t really perceive it as such, but it was there. I didn’t embrace it, but I didn’t play by the rules set up by teachers, grandparents, and others in my life. Thank goodness my mother didn’t care about those distinctions. She taught me that people were people and to be enjoyed for all their differences. And that set up a conflict between the teachings of my beloved grandmother and my dear mother. Which was right? How was I to find my way? How was I to chart my own path, to decide what I believed?

And then came the Sixties, when I saw the older rules bend, break, and morph into new rules. Was I going to embrace the inadvertent racist teachings of my youth? Or was I going to embrace and love differences? Talk about conflict.

To be continued next week.

Featured, Lake Writers, Lifestyle, Point of View, POV, Sally Roseveare, Writing, Writing Style

Some Cliches Are True

January 9, 2017

It is said that when a writer dies, an entire library dies with her. It may be a cliche, but it is true. Take away a unique voice, and you lose all future books. Stories never told are lost forever. So when my dear friend, Sally Roseveare, lost her brief but intense battle with cancer at the end of 2016, I was heartbroken.

When my husband and I moved to Smith Mountain Lake, we knew no one. Not long after we settled into our new home, my husband found a notice in the local weekly for something called “Lake Writers” and a phone number. I called, spoke with the nicest man, Jim Morrison, and learned all about this club. Where it met. Who was welcome to join. How it functioned. I had just finished a draft of my first Mad Max novel, so I decided this would be a good group to join.

Sally was my first friend in the group, although we couldn’t have been more opposite. She was the quintessential Southern lady, soft-spoken, gentle manners, measured speech and a sensitivity that caused her to weep and laugh, sometimes at the same time. I was a free spirit from Southern California with a strong overlay of New York City snarkiness.

Sally offered to read my draft, which in my naivete, I thought was a final draft. She was kind enough to tell me it was all right as a first draft, but there were several things she thought should be changed. She said the voices of the two narrators were neither distinct nor compelling. She couldn’t tell who was telling the story without going back to the chapter heading to see whose point of view I was using. Really? Point of view? Well, maybe. Then she said I didn’t have a good hook at the beginning. I knew what a hook was, so I reread the opening chapter. She was right. No solid hook. Further, she didn’t like the way I presented the conflict. After all, this was the story of a marriage that dissolved because of the intervention of fate (an auto accident leading to traumatic brain injury) and a maniacal doctor who filled the wife’s head with ideas that weren’t her own. Hmm, no conflict? What about the fights the husband and wife had? Wasn’t that conflict? Lastly, she thought that maybe I had the wrong narrators.

Well, what did she know? Sally had only read the first fifty pages or so. The story really got rolling further along.

I continued attending Lake Writers meetings twice a month. Each time, I learned a bit more of my craft. When I was finally ready to confront my manuscript again, I realized Sally was right. No good point of view. Lousy voice. Conflict masquerading as wounded feelings without going much deeper. I needed a rewrite.

Once my main character claimed the story as her own–thank you, Mad Max, for yelling at me one night to tell the story your way–I undertook a total rewrite. Gone were the twin narrators. In was a single narrator, who had started life as a tertiary character. Gone was the conflict manifested at arguments; in came internal conflict about doing the right thing. A good starting hook.

Sally was gracious and read the rewrite, in spite of the fact that her sensitivity was challenged by my sometimes rough speech, a few f-bombs from one of the male characters, and some mildly graphic sex. She read and commented on the entire manuscript this time, questioning where I could write better, suggesting a tightening of the plot, beating me up to show the action and emotions, rather than tell them. And she was right.

And now, Sally’s great voice is silent. Her gay laughter gone, her gentle Southern accent adrift on the wind. This gentle grandmother who killed people in her cozy novels took her third novel and all her stories with her. We are left with her two novels, memories of her gentle nature, gestures of kindness that she wore like a second skin.

Rest in peace, dear friend. I will miss you always.

What do you think? Is she telling stories in Heaven, making people laugh, even as she recounts her research into the possibility of stuffing a fully-grown man’s body into a Porta-Potty? Probably.

Featured, Lifestyle, Marketing, Writing, Writing Style

Don’t Swing at a Pitch in the Dirt

January 2, 2017

This blog spawns from a series of discussions I had over the past few months with newbie writers. None had published anything; all had grand dreams of hitting that ball out of the park, a home run the first time out. I can belabor the baseball metaphor endlessly, but let us put it aside. Time to bring baseball and publishing expectations together.

What I mean by not swinging at pitches in the dirt is that the ball is out of play as soon as it gets dirty. Any player who would swing at something hoping for a hit would strike at the ball, but nothing would happen.

The same thing happens with writers. We all know we have a great book in us. We all know it will be a best seller and that we’ll enjoy fame and fortune while we whisk out our next great opus. If wishes were Porsches, Betsy would drive like a queen.

I was working with several new writers who all wanted to write the next great American novel. I hope one of them will, but it won’t be the stuff dreams are made of. (Sorry, Bogie, couldn’t resist the last line from The Maltese Falcon.) Writing, to quote my friend Brad Parks, is hard flipping work. I asked these writers what their typical writing day was in order to judge the seriousness of their hopes. Only one wrote every day. Some thought about writing every day but never found time to sit and actually write. No matter that I shared they could find twenty minutes daily to put something on paper. No matter that if they wrote 250 words a day they’d have a novel-length draft done in a year. “A year,” moaned one man. “I can’t wait a year to have a successful novel.”

And you won’t if you don’t et started, but I bit my tongue and didn’t say that. That same man wanted to know what the ROI was on writing a novel. He wanted to know what profit a book could make. If he churned out two books a year, “Could I make a minimum of $70,000?” Maybe, but not likely. Even less likely when you listen closely to “churning” out books. We’re not making butter here.

I gave a workshop with my publisher, John Koehler, at the Virginia Writers Club Symposium on what to expect when you get ready to publish. We covered getting an agent, keeping an agent, finding a publisher, self-publishing, and the dreaded public relations/marketing. We didn’t hold anything back. We tried not to be downers, but we focused on honesty. Not everyone who publishes a novel makes enough money to live on. Would that we could, but most, if not all, of us need a primary source of income while we get started. Or for our entire careers.

Publishing is not for the faint of heart. I always ask newbies what their audience is for their books. If they are honest and say “friends and family” first, then they should self-publish and promote their books accordingly. If they think their book might have commercial appeal, then they have other options. It all comes down to numbers, and these have nothing to do with royalty streams.

Before you decide whether you want to go the traditional route and seek an agent or self publish, you might try this.

  1. Take your age and add three to five years to it to learn your craft and get a decent manuscript ready.
  2. Add two or three years to find an agent.
  3. Add two or three years for your agent to sell the book.
  4. Add another one to two years once the book is sold before it is published, longer if you are seeking a print contract. In that case, add another year or two.

That’s 8 to 10 years before you have your book in print, maybe longer. AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO MUCH OF THE MARKETING AND PROMOTING YOURSELF. Sorry to shout, but this is the kicker most writers hate. Publishers don’t spend much on promoting debut authors. If you don’t hit a home run immediately, they lose interest and there goes your next deal.

Even with this, writers continue to take chances and write because they can’t stop writing. More power to you. Knowing that the on deck circle is the only place you can dream of that game-winning homer, you go back to your keyboard and try again. I’m proud of you for sticking to your dream.

I hope I haven’t punctured your dream too much. Know what will be expected of you. Know what to expect of yourself. And put that butt in your chair, fingers on your keyboard, and get out of the way of your story. Who knows, you may be the next National Book Award winner in fiction. Go for the dream. Just don’t swing at pitches in the dirt.

Featured, Lifestyle, Peace, Writing

A Time of Peace

December 19, 2016

I’ve been thinking about prayer circles lately. They come in all flavors and colors. Some are built around discussion and the calling of names of those we hold dear and protect. Others begin and end with meditation, with long periods of discussion in between. Still others are only conducted in silence.

Around the world we’ve witnessed some of the worst of human atrocities. No matter which side of a conflict one may be, the outcome from bombings, suicides and war call for us to long for peace. I know how much we’ve listened to hate speech, watched families split over their political choices, seen hate symbols proudly displayed. And we’ve also witnessed the smallest of human triumphs and goodness.

This weekend, I watched a woman in line in front of me at the mall get very upset because one customer was taking too much time (her words, not mine). She made a comment about the clerk’s ethnicity, as if that was a reason for the slowness.  I made a joke about a truly ugly Christmas sweater on a nearby mannequin. By the time she reached the clerk, we’d talked and laughed for five minutes. She was in a good mood, paid her charges quickly, smiled at me and left. Small thing, but I reached out.

One of my girlfriends was in a mall across the country when she saw a woman on the verge of tears. They were looking at cards. After several audible sniffs, my friend reached over and invited the sad woman to have a cup of coffee with her. As strangers know, stories flow without restraint. The sad woman had had to put her dog down the day before. She couldn’t go home without crying. My girlfriend sat with her for over two hours, sharing tales about their pets, crying a bit over lost furry friends. They ended exchanging email addresses with promises to have coffee again when times are better. My girlfriend knows it will happen. They’ve already made a date for between the holidays.

It’s not just women, but men generally don’t tell us they’ve done random acts of kindness. They keep their actions to themselves. Women talk to other women, hoping to find inspiration in the actions of others.

And we have reached a time of peace with the coming of the holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, all are centered on peace. We might not agree, but Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are also founded on peace. Isn’t it time to look beyond the color of the skin, the head scarf, the body tattoos to see the real person underneath? We might not always like what we see, but we should look anyway, don’t you think? I like being surprised when I find the jewel.

In the words of a recent philosopher, isn’t it time to “give peace a chance?” Thank you, John Lennon, for those words of wisdom. We aren’t all living by them yet, but these’s still hope that we will. Or, “can we all get along? …Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it.” Thank you, Rodney King.

What about you? What are you doing to give peace a chance? Whether on the global scale or in your heart, you can do something to help us all get along. I’d love to know what you are doing.

I finished decorating my house and am taking a quick nap under the tree with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

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