Category Archives: musings

Size Matters – to Me

As a reader, I have a general book length that I prefer reading. As a writer, I found I did, too. When I wrote my first book, it just naturally came out to about 75,000 words which equals roughly between 250 and 310 pages of either a Mass Market Paperback or the larger Trade Paperback, and can vary even more with e-books.

I guess most of the books I read are classified as traditional mysteries, historical mysteries and cozies with an occasional fantasy or adventure thrown in, and these books are all in that general word length mentioned above.  I almost always read every day for at least an hour, sometimes more, so one could say I read a lot of books.

Keeping the price of reading under control is a challenge because I really enjoy keeping up with my favorite authors who have to be prolific in order to keep their publishers. And publishers seem to understand this, so they have encouraged authors, especially best-selling ones, to recommend their favorite books to the public through companies who promote current books (as if authors didn’t have enough to do in marketing their own books). Note: I seriously find it hard to believe that some of the authors listed as recommending some books actually have read them, much less have the time to recommend them. Okay, call me cynical. But, I don’t want to miss out if so-and-so says it’s really great… What to do? Opps, I got a little off track.

Lately more and more opportunities have become available for books to be offered at a discount, both in print and in e-book form and not all the books are current. Some are classics or books that were popular years ago, went out of print and have just become available again (largely due to Print-on-Demand).  Sometimes the books are free or $.99, or $1.99, sometimes more. These books help my budget, provide good PR for the authors and keep their name “out there.”

Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but recently I noticed a trend where a favorite author has a new book out and in my rush to get it, I didn’t check the word-count or length of the file or page count, and after I’ve downloaded it to my Kindle, I find out the book is only 55 pages long. True, I may have only paid $.99, but I feel cheated when the book was not advertised as a novella. It’s easy to check when purchasing, but I’ve been excited and in a hurry and downloaded before checking a few times now. That won’t happen again!

When I read a book, it takes time for me to discern the plot of the book and get the characters straight and usually by 55 pages, I’m really getting interested, not ready to close the cover. Here I’ve invested my money, time and effort and (granted) senior memory in this book and it’s already over. That makes me very unhappy. Has anyone else noticed this trend, or is it just me? Makes me want to mumble, “Grrrrrrr!!!”

With some really favorite authors I’ll wait impatiently however long it takes for the next book in their series to come out and I’ll pay the full price at release date (or pre-order price), but I can’t afford to do that with all my reading material, so from now on, I’ll watch carefully to see how long the book is before I order, because I want to be a happy reader.

How about you?  Have you noticed this size thing? Does it matter to you?

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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The Season by John E. Stack

Merry Christmas.  Early.  Yeah, I know that it is still a few weeks away but down here in North Carolina we received an early Christmas present.  We got an early snowstorm that dropped around 10 to 12 inches on us.  It’s just God’s way of telling school teachers, “You’ve worked way too hard this year, so take a few day off.”  Gotta love it.

Even if we have to make it up, it was good time off.  I did grade a few papers but also started cleaning up and organizing our upstairs. I got the Christmas tree up and Allie helped me decorate it.  Our stockings are already hung by the fireplace and the manger scene is lit in front of the house.

Tradition is a big part of life.  If you try to break tradition, lots of people get really upset.  But hey, if it works, why change it.  We have a 9 ft. artificial tree that we picked up about twelve years ago.  It’s old but still looks very real.  A few years ago we decided to buy a smaller tree, about 6 ft.  Everyone we looked at looked so fake.  We even ordered one and had to send it back.

Sometimes we tend to lose sight of what Christmas is all about. It’s about giving, not receiving.  It’s about providing money for a decent Christmas dinner for a family whose dad lost his job.  Maybe it’s about learning that a family can’t afford to buy gifts, and your Sunday school class picks up gifts for all the kids.  Maybe watching your daughter save her money all year to buy gifts for another child her age who lives in a poor neighborhood.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  God loved us enough to send his Son to save us.  He was given humble beginnings and died as a sacrifice on a cross.  For us.  All of us.  Talk about a gift.  It is difficult to imagine a love so great.  It hard not to tell people about it.

I may not be politically correct, but I know what I believe.

Whether you believe or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or something else, I pray that this holiday season brings you much joy and happiness.  Blessings to all.

 

*** John E Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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My Christmas Card List

My early adult years in the mid 1960’s were spent as a military spouse and as such, friends were most likely people who had shared my husband’s and my life. Military bonds tend to run deep, because they frequently involve hardships. So when friends are made, they often remain so for life, at least for me.

For instance, my husband, Byron and I were assigned to a small radar site in northern Montana, six miles from the Canadian border as the crow flies and thirty-eight miles from the nearest town, population 10,000. Temperatures reached minus 50 degrees that first winter and sand storms were the norm in the spring and fall. Twenty-eight houses comprised the living quarters for families and a small BOQ (bachelor officer quarters) held two or three single men. We were lucky to have TV, but the signal was interrupted every 18 seconds or so with the sweep of the radar antenna. Once every three months, we had a doctor, dentist and priest/minister rotate to our site for a few days, so neighbor helped neighbor, regularly. We became family, a concept particularly meaningful to me, having been orphaned early in my life.

I imagine you have an idea what I’m trying to say about how deeply military families extend and grow to include neighbors and friends. And in each place Byron and I were stationed, our original family of three became larger and larger. From our first deployment, I decided to create a Christmas card list so I could keep up with my family no matter where we all were.  Even now, fifty-five years later, after a divorce even, I’ve kept up with many people from those wonderful military days. From Montana, the people across the street, Cliff and Shirley had a daughter who babysat for our son, Rob, when he was three. Cliff has passed now, but Shirley and I still stay in touch. Then when Byron was teaching aerospace studies at North Texas State University to ROTC students, several of those students are still exchanging Christmas cards with me.

Three years in Germany added to the list and New Mexico and Texas did too, and I gained another friend when I was lucky to invade my husband’s remote tour (without family) to Iceland for a two week R&R (rest and recuperation) visit. And during Vietnam, I spent time with my in-laws since I lived nearby. Our last assignment was in Montgomery, AL at Maxwell Air Force Base Wing Headquarters ROTC and we lived just outside the back gate of Gunter Air Force Station, so the family we gathered there were not just military, but members of a Scottish society and civilians alike.

My husband and I may have divorced, but not my through-the-years friends. In fact they became even closer to me since I’d lost part of my family. And I made new ones from neighbors, church, and various interests.

Yesterday, I received a Christmas card from my sister and enclosed was a poem that I just have to share with you. It says everything I feel about my Christmas card list. Perhaps you have your own version.

 

The Christmas Card List

There is a list of folks I know
All written in a book,
And every year at Christmas time
I go and take a look.
And that is when I realize
Those names are all a part
Not of the book they’re written in,
But deep inside my heart.

For each name stands for someone
Who has touched my life sometime,
And in that meeting they’ve become
A special friend of mine.
I really feel that I’m composed
Of each remembered name,
And my life is so much better
Than it was before they came.

Once you’ve known that “someone”,
All the years cannot erase
The memory of a pleasant word
Or of a friendly face.
So never think my Christmas cards
Are just a mere routine
Of names upon a list that are
Forgotten in between.

For when I send a Christmas card
That is addressed to you,
It is because you’re on that list
Of folks I’m indebted to.
And whether I have known you
For many years or few,
The greatest gift that God can give
Is having friends like you!

Author Unknown

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

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Well I’ll Be!

Although I live surrounded by neighbors, I don’t necessarily see them every day. In fact, sometimes I won’t see a single soul for maybe even a week. That’s not unusual since I’m retired and most people who live near me are younger and have jobs that keep them away during the day. And I’m the type who almost always has a project or two lined up to keep me busy, many times inside.

Since I live alone, I don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off of unless I use my phone or email, so I’ve become one of those people other people like to make fun of, because I talk to myself. Do any of you ever do that? I honestly don’t know why, but I don’t talk to myself out loud. I whisper, and only when I am alone. How strange is that?

Occasionally, when I’ve been out shopping or whatever, I’ve actually seen and heard people talking out loud to themselves, so I’m assuming I’m probably not THAT unusual, but I have no idea why I whisper. Maybe, my inner-self thinks it’s weird to talk to oneself, so if I whisper no one will notice? But if I’m alone…that doesn’t seem to make sense. I decided it wasn’t that big a deal and not serious enough to be concerned about so I just go about my activities as usual.

Often, my friends and family contact me via email, so I spend a part of each day conversing with them silently. However, my son makes it a point to phone me usually once a week or so. Most of the time these days, when my phone rings,  it’s a political ad, someone trying to sell me something, or someone trying to scam me, so if I don’t recognize the name on my Caller ID, I just ignore calls, and as a result, there may be days when I don’t speak with anyone.

I noticed the last few times my son called, my voice was hoarse and my tone was elevated and he asked if I was okay. I assured him I was fine, but started to be aware of my voice sounding differently. I also noticed I was having a little trouble swallowing and decided, since I had my annual check-up coming up, I’d run this past my doctor, just to make sure all actually was okay.

So, my appointment came and my doctor checked me over and asked if anything was different than before and I told him that I felt well except for the slight difficulty swallowing and hoarse voice. He said it was probably normal, but he’d recommend me going to see an Ears, Nose and Throat doctor, just to make sure. So long story short, I went to the ENT doctor, who did a thorough check and this is what he said, “I think you’re fine. It’s not uncommon for us, as we age, to get dry mouth, which you’ve told me you have, so my recommendation is to drink more fluids when eating. That will take care of the swallowing difficulty. And for the hoarse voice, I suggest you talk out loud to yourself during the day. That will keep your vocal cords warmed up and working for when you do need to say something to someone.”

Well I’ll be! Can you believe that? Have you ever heard of a DOCTOR prescribing talking out loud to yourself as a cure? This has become my favorite story to tell my friends. Hahahahaha!!!! Maybe those people I saw and heard talking to themselves were following their doctor’s orders!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Hurry-Cane Michael

For a couple of days now, I’ve been glued to my TV trying to keep up with the latest movement of Hurricane Michael. I live in New Port Richey, Florida, close to the Gulf of Mexico in west-central Florida. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on this tenth of October, 2018 and we are experiencing bands of gusty rain squalls from this storm, which is almost 500 miles northwest of here, as the crow flies. I’m quite safe, but what has had me so intent on my TV screen is friends who are not.

One friend, along with his family, lives and owns a grocery store in the Apalachicola, Florida area, just about dead center of “ground zero.” Another friend is visiting her friends in Crawfordville, directly south of Tallahassee, not far from Michael, who has, at this point, just gained landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, just one mile-per-hour shy of a Category 5. That’s 155 miles per hour that it is spinning and causing havoc! Can you believe that? The weathercasters are saying this storm is one of three of the strongest storms in history to breach an American coastline.

I went through Hurricane Irma last year and that experience is still fresh in my mind. And as a Floridian since 2002, I’ve ridden through a few hurricanes and tropical storms since I moved here.

Some people have asked me why I would choose to live in such a dangerous place. I’ve actually thought about the answer to that question and have decided there really isn’t a place I’d want to live that is any safer, these days, anyway. I grew up in NJ. There’s snow there and hurricanes too. I’ve lived in Indiana where there are ticks in the grass. Ewww! I know, poor excuse. Montana got down to 50 degrees-below-zero the first winter I spent there and I vividly remember a storm that produced baseball sized hail right after I planted hollyhocks. Grrrr! I lived a couple of places in Texas where I had to deal with scorpions in one place and pigeon mites in another. Alabama was pretty safe except I moved from there to be closer to my son as I grew older.

My conclusion is every place will have advantages and disadvantages and now that I’m here, I’m stayin! I like the warmer weather until summer hits and I’m truly blessed to have a neighbor behind me who has a hurricane-safe-rated house. So, last year, during Irma, I sat securely in her house keeping an eye open on my house. Everything turned out okay and the only thing I lost was a wonderful old backyard hedge, which I replaced with a vinyl fence.

My friends I was worried about, I’m still worried about because I’ve gotten word they have lost power. So, at this point, my action calls for heavy prayer, but actually, that’s the action I started out with and it usually works the best. Please help me pray? I’d appreciate it!

Update: It’s Thursday the 11th and I heard late last night that my friends are safe. Thank goodness. I’m continuing to pray for all those others who have gone through this monstrous storm, and I also pray that Hurricane Michael will hurry out of the U.S. so we can start the healing process.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Crazy Quilts and Sage Sayings by Sherrie Hansen

I grew up wrapping my baby doll in this soft, little quilt, made with scraps from dresses my mom and grandma sewed for my sister and I and themselves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There’s a bit of the dress my mother made for her first class reunion and some of her curtains, too. My Great-Grandma, Mathilda Jensen Paulsen, from Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, stitched it together, along with a big quilt that matched. Later, when I was old enough to sew but still young enough to play with dolls – Barbie dolls instead of baby dolls by this time – my grandma and I made doll clothes out of more scraps from some of these same fabrics.

Quilt - baby doll

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love quilts and the memories and history woven into them – or when I didn’t embrace the concept that nothing should be wasted – not the extra fabric after a pattern was cut out, or the few inches of lace or rickrack left over from a project, or the odd button on the button card, or even an empty feed sack. Waste not, want not. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Quilt - twin bed

And thanks to my Grandma Victoria, who scraped out her bowls so clean that you couldn’t tell they had been used, I know that the batter that lingers in the pans of people who don’t scrape out their bowls is enough to make a whole extra muffin or two cookies – very probably the ones you will get to eat!

Quilt - fabrics

I grew up in a family of thrifty, hardworking, creative, and yes, stubborn Danes with a dash of Bohemian, German, English and Scottish thrown in for good value. And I mean that literally. The melting pot that was my family tree produced a bumper crop of large-boned, freckle-skinned, hardy folks who could do most anything they set their minds to – unless it was sports related. We weren’t athletically inclined, nor were we ones to waste time or energy on things that weren’t essential, necessary, or needed.

Quilt - off to bed

When later generations grew up wanting to dabble in the arts – make pretty quilts from calicos bought from quilting shops instead of scraps (because they were in colors that matched a room or enhanced a decorating scheme), eyebrows were raised, prayers were said, and people wondered what the world was coming to. I was a part of the younger generation – I loved certain colors, and it was very important to me that everything matched. One year, my Grandma Victoria made rag rugs for us for Christmas, I dug through the pile until I found one with no red.

Quilts - EJ

Bright red didn’t match the pastel pinks and roses I used in my house. To satisfy my artistic eye, even the threads the rugs were woven with had to be blue or green instead of red – or heaven forbid, orange. (Thankfully, someone had put an old pink bathrobe in the rag bag at some point, so I did get my color-coordinated rug.)

Quilt - houses

It was clear. The writing was on the wall. Never ever would I sew a quilt out of old dresses or wool suits (or whatever leftover fabrics happened to be in the mending pile) in a mish mash of helter-skelter colors. I was a colorful prima-dona, a quilting artiste.

Quilt - mine

Something else had changed over the generations. The hodgepodge, crazy quilts we slept under and covered our beds with and used to keep the dust off of the furniture were replaced by quilts that were so perfect and pretty that we didn’t want to ruin them by putting them on our beds or actually using them.

Quilt - hearts

We hung them on the walls, put them in our hope chests, and lovingly guarded them for posterity’s sake so we could pass them down to future generations. We took them off our beds and put them in our cedar chests.

Quilt - Mom

We collected old quilts at auction and estate sales and revered any family quilts that had survived said family. Sometimes people made numerous pillows or even teddy bears out of a grandma’s quilt so each grandchild could have a small piece of it. But we didn’t snuggle under them or swaddle our children in them, or cuddle in front of the fireplace wrapped up in them, or throw them on the ground and spread a picnic out on top of them.

Quilt - crazy

So, how does this pertain to my books, Night & Day and Daybreak? Jensen Marie Christiansen comes from a long line of quilters to whom a quilt meant nothing more than something to keep you warm on a cold winter night. Jensen is a designer and creator of art quilts. In Night & Day, Ed has a pilly old bedspread in drab tones.  Anders sleeps under a sailboat quilt in bright blues and yellows that his mother made for him.

Quilt - sunbonnet sue

Quilts become the catalyst for the conflict of a family, generations of hopes and dreams, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – a solid, predictable, convenient future with Ed or a wild ‘trip around the world’ with Anders?

Quilt - pink and green

In Daybreak, everything has changed and Jensen is searching for order in a world that has become all too crazy. The freeform, artistic quilts she has always designed are suddenly too flighty and fancy free to meet her needs. As her hopes and dreams swirl out of control, she needs the precision of perfectly aligned corners and points that come together the way they’re supposed to. When her family starts to fall apart, and she needs the constancy of her heritage. She even starts a quilt in a red and white Danish design (well, a pretty cherry red, almost burgundy in hue.)

Quilt - CH

The imagery of quilts – a doll quilt that a young Mathilda wrapped her baby doll in, and then gave to Leif to wrap Maren’s newborn baby in, a quilt made by Jensen for the daughter she feared she would never have, a great-grandmother’s quilt that was Jensen’s most cherished possession – the tapestry of a family’s life, patched together in a way that unites the generations of my family for all times.

Quilt - Mathilde

My life – I skipped a generation in Night & Day, so in real life, Maren was my great-great grandmother, Mathilda was my great-grandma, and baby Victoria was my grandma – but it’s all there.

Quilt - Victoria

The scraps and memories, pieced together with bits and bobs from my imagination, all joined together in fiction form, misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions of the world – a completely different world than existed back then – smoothed out in a colorful pattern and stitched with love.

Quilt - Grandma Hansen

Jensen and her family are very close to my heart, and I hope once you read Night & Day and Daybreak, you’ll feel the same way. I chose the design and colors for the quilt on the front cover of Night & Day to coordinate with the color palate in one of my guest rooms – On the Banks of Plum Creek – at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn.

Quilt - bear

I wanted to use a Trip Around the World quilt – it would have matched the theme of Night & Day so perfectly, and if there’s anything I love more than coordinating colors, it’s perfectly synchronized symbolism – but my publisher liked this one, so that’s what we went with. If you come to stay at the Blue Belle one day, you can still snuggle up under this quilt and dream the night away.

Quilt - plum Creek

I saw and fell in love with the lovely quilt on the front cover of Daybreak online, which has a unique symbolism in and of itself. The colors were perfect, and the design, with sunrise and sea, spoke to me of oceans and time, and seemed perfectly suited for Jensen and Anders’ continuing story. I was able to weave the design into the story in ways that brought the whole tale to life. I hope you agree. (The cover art quilt for Daybreak is by Elena Stokes, and was photographed by the artist. You can visit her website to see more of her work at www.elenastokes.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/elena.stokes.art.)

Daybreak Elena Stokes - It Suddenly Dawned 300 ppi

I’m sure some folks wonder why I would put a quilt on the front of a fiction novel instead of a character or a sketch of Maren’s old house, Peter’s bonfire, or any one of the beautiful scenes from Minnesota or Denmark that unfold in the course of the book. But to me, the quilts say it all. Quilts were the inspiration for these stories. The plot revolves around them. The characters are defined by them and shine because of their existence. In both Night & Day and Daybreak, the quilts connect the generations across oceans and time through each precise stitch – a miraculous labor of love, and the gift of a special artistry known only to quilters.

Quilt - Danish flags  Quilt - DEnmark

Even after all these years, when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark, somewhere, a night owl like me is quilting.

Quilt - Maren

Someone else is fast asleep under a quilt stitched by a mother or grandmother who loved them. Someone on the other side of the world is crawling out from under the covers, ready to face the dawn of a new day, and someone else is sitting cross-legged on a quilt, writing in her journal, and falling in love. Crazy quilts of life – God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces, leftovers and scraps. So do the hands of quilters.

Quilt - names

Now off to bed, sleepy heads.

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, quilt, decorate vintage homes, and travel. Her new release, DAYBREAK, is the long awaited sequel to her very first book, NIGHT & DAY. Both books are full of quilting imagery and sage sayings.)

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Great Day Versus…

When I wake up and start my day and everything just follows along in a neutral way and nothing out of the ordinary happens, it just becomes another day, for which I’m grateful. If something doesn’t go well for enough of the day, I might classify it as a bad day. Or, if a lot of things do go well, it’s a good day. Do you judge your days like that? Do you even think about it?

The reason I ask is yesterday was a great day for me, and as I expressed it out loud to some friends, I was surprised, and I wanted to know why. I guess I don’t take time to analyze each day, one way or another, I just live it and go on. Does that make sense?

But for some reason, I felt it was important to tell my friends I was having a great day. I felt that I should let them know that great days happen. Maybe they had only had ordinary days or not so good days lately. Or perhaps they might have had a couple bad days even. They hadn’t said so, but I wanted to plant a “great day seed.” I have the feeling you may be convinced I’m bonkers. So now, I guess I need to explain what makes up a good or great day versus one not so good or bad, at least for me.

As I thought about it, I decided that generally my days are good days, not bad or great. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing projects and setting goals for myself, and I enjoy trying to do something or say something nice or inspiring to/for someone each day. I guess that gives me a sense of purpose and self-worth.

Lately, I’ve been battling with a seller over a merchandise return and refund that started in May. All I wanted to do was return the items and get a refund. Things were complicated by the fact that I was dealing with a foreign company and shipping dealt with customs and taxes. I had paid for the items through a mediator, who was trying to help me, but it was all online and somewhat confusing. I guess that issue weighed me down more than I realized. So when I was dealing with another company with online back orders and discontinued items, I thought more complications and disappointment were on their way.

Yesterday, the day started with an email stating all was settled with the foreign company,  items were returned and I was getting my refund. Another email informed me that the items I thought were back ordered and discontinued might not be and had shipped. I was a bit confused by that email, but the mailman arrived moments later and all items I’d ordered were in the package. I could hardly believe it. Oh, joy!

To top it off, a package arrived from a friend I hadn’t seen or spoken with for some time. He had called two nights ago saying it was on its way, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. It was a porcelain bell with delicate painted flowers and my name on it. He’d seen it and was reminded of me and decided to send it to me. I was so touched when I saw it.

Then to top it off, I was preparing to go to my monthly luncheon with three friends and when I offered to drive, one of the gals said she’d already planned to drive and would pick me up. We all spent a couple of hours relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. What’s not great about that?! So I shared my “great day” news with my friends and decided to share it with you, too, dear readers. A great day doesn’t have to be a spectacular or phenomenal or supernatural occasion, at least not for me. Just a day in which things go right and friends are strong. How’s your day?

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Understanding My Epiphany

I was reading a book a couple of days ago when suddenly, in a clear flash of understanding; I became aware of what propels me most in making choices and decisions. I found that especially shocking since I’m seventy-five years old. One would imagine, by that age, one wouldn’t be surprised at all by anything they might choose or decide. Yet, I was blown away.

The book’s passage had to do with how different people relate to life. Some people are practical and stoic and are led by natural laws following virtue alone, or through reason, fear, boredom, led or indifferent to other’s opinions, passions or emotions. I’ve always considered myself a rather practical person, most of the time, weighing pros and cons to make good logical choices. So I thought.

Instead of reading on in this book, I found myself dwelling on the dialog of one character to the other when he said to her that she was the kind of person who had to have passion when she picked her friends, selected favorite music, decided what to eat, even when decorating her abode. Those choices were what made her, her. But, she thought, if she believed hard enough, could she choose to follow convention or settle for security and not incorporate her passion?

What suddenly hit me was, the choices and decisions that have made me the happiest and most satisfied in my life have been the ones made with passion first, and not necessarily with thoughts of security or convention or so-called common sense. And I’d never really thoroughly thought this out before.

Not long ago, I attended my 55th high school reunion and our former class president asked several of us to each tell the group what we were passionate about now. One classmate said he wasn’t passionate about anything in particular. He was the only one of us who had not retired and when asked about that, he wasn’t sure what he would do when he did retire.

I remember feeling immensely sad for him when he said that. Here was a well-educated man, nice looking, healthy, very comfortable financially, with potentially lots of years left to him. The former class president asked him what he liked to do and the answer was, sail. Later I found out he’d bought a sailboat and I was so happy for him until I learned he was in the process of selling it. Too much trouble keeping it up was his reason why. He was divorced and didn’t have anyone to care about except two grown children. I kept in touch for a while, but the last time I spoke with him on the phone, he told me he wouldn’t want to live if something ever happened to his kids. Gosh!

I have a son, daughter-in-law, grandson and a sister and her family and I look forward to talking on the phone with them and visiting whenever possible. I don’t think about negative things that might happen to them or me. I just enjoy them and look forward to sharing my life with them and vice versa, now and in the future. There still are so many things I want to do, experience and share.

Although I’ve tried to be sensible, passion has made my life more rewarding and fulfilling. My mother taught me to be a “Save for a rainy day, but also enjoy each and every day to the fullest” kind of gal. But, for me, the special ingredient of passion has made “fullest even fuller.”

How about you, have you ever analyzed what drives you in life? I’d love to hear.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Words & Coco-Words

For some reason or other, many times I’ve failed to find a dictionary word that would work for me, so I guess I’ve always made up words to better explain what I‘ve wanted to say or do, and I figure, at my age, why change. So, I’m still doing it.

My son, Rob, and his wife, Florence, recently married and shortly after the return from their Hawaiian honeymoon, their employer moved them to a new location two and a half hours south of me. They had been only forty minutes away. I was sad to see them go, but I was also happy for them, because the opportunities in the new location are better. I also knew that it would take a while to unpack and get settled in their new home, all the while working full time and learning the ropes of the new job and location.

The three of us are close, but I figured there would be less phone calls and visits at least for a while, so I’ve busied myself with all sorts of projects to keep my mind occupied. But to be honest, I’ve really been missing them! I called them a couple of times, but I didn’t want to bug them. Nothing worse than a “Needy” mama.

So, a couple of nights ago, I was in my kitchen whipping up my evening meal and the phone rang. My caller ID said it was my son. Yeaaaaaay! So I danced on over to the phone and answered with my most cheerful, “Hi!”

Rob said, “Hi, Mom, how are you doing? What have you been up to?” After we caught up a bit, I told him in great detail all about the projects that had been occupying my time; the cleaned gutters, new backyard privacy fence, the Solar skylights I had put in my living room, and said I’d even had my regular check-up with my doctor and all was fine, except I had been suffering from symptoms of Flob withdrawal. At this point I stopped talking and there was dead “pin-drop” silence on the other end of the phone. Finally about four seconds later, Rob burst into laughter which went on and on. Well, you know how contagious laughter is. I started laughing, too. Pretty soon all three of were laughing.

Rob told me that when I said “Flob” withdrawal, he was frantically trying to figure out what the heck I was talking about. During his thought process he turned and looked at Florence and she had this subtle, deadpan smile on her face. He suddenly realized what I meant. FLOB was a combination of her name and his. I’m usually better as an audience participant, but every now and then, I come up with a perfect zinger. The three of us enjoyed another few seconds of laughter and when we eventually hung up, my heart was cured. At least until next time.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under fun, Humor, life, musings

Examining My Own Mortality by John E. Stack

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that I’ve seldom gone through.  I read the name of a friend from long ago in the local obits.  It really threw me off since it was a person that had helped change the direction of my life.  It also from a time over thirty years ago and two thousand miles away on the far side of this United States.  He was distant kin and I was almost half way around the world when I chanced to meet him. Out of respect, I called him “Chief” due to military rank, and he called me “Cuz”.  Often times when old friends pass, particularly when they are not that much older, it sets your mind off on an excursion to rediscover the things that you went through, especially those things that may have had an impact on the lives of others.

I was about halfway through my Air Force career, stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. I would have been described as an arrogant and self-centered young sergeant.  I worked on the high side of construction and design.  We often went on temporary assignments and completed construction projects, such as buildings, roads and utility systems.

Not long after I was stationed in Las Vegas, I came across a brass, cigar-smoking chief master sergeant who had the same last name as my mom’s maiden name “Whitlow”.  A short while later I asked if he was kin to the Whitlow’s from North Carolina.  To my surprise he said he was.  He also said that my grandfather was his uncle.  What a coincidence!  It always gave us something to talk about.

The other things we often had opportunities to talk about was my mouth and attitude.  Both were horrible.  Not a time I’m proud of.  I often wonder now how my wife could stand to be around me back then. I won’t go into everything, but after the second time I lost my temper and said some very unprofessional, rude things to a young lieutenant he came to my rescue.  The lieutenant was extremely angry because of the name I called him and threatened to put me up on charges.  Chief saw (heard) what was going on and moseyed over to where we were having our conversation. He said that I was needed back on the job site right away because there was a problem. I think I was the problem.  As I walked away, I heard, “Excuse me sir, could I speak to you for a moment?”

I don’t know what was said in their conversation, but I do know that after I apologized to the Lieutenant, he agreed not to file charges.  After the butt-chewing I received from Chief, all I could say was thank-you.  I still remember some of the words he told me.  He said, “Stack“, I knew I was in it deep. “This is the last time I save your ass.  You are the best at what you do.  You don’t have to tell people, they can see it in the quality of your work.  You need to grow-up and make sure that you want to make the Air Force a career, because if you keep on this path you won’t last.”  I was surprised that he cared enough to call me out, and I’ve never forgotten.  It was more than just being family.  Even though I lost track of him, I never lost respect.

I often wonder if I have touched people in this way (the caring part, not the rude part).  I started to turn my life around and eventually I became a Christian.  After retirement, I went back to school and became a middle school teacher.  I felt that God pulled me in this direction and now I’m completing my twentieth year.  I’ve taught hundreds of middle-schoolers.  When I think back I question whether my old-school ways had positive effects on these students or was I too tough?  Did I care enough?  I like to think I did but often felt that my standards were a lot higher than the parent’s or kid’s expectations.

And then I think about the children that have lived in our home.  God provided us with a house way too large for just my wife and I, and then asked “what are you going to do with all these rooms?” (no, God did not speak directly to us but as we talked this was what we felt.)  We became foster parents about eleven years ago and have had twenty-two babies get their start from our arms.  I hope these beginnings have been positive.  I often ask myself, “have my fallings and failures affected these babies?”

As a teacher we are supposed to reflect on what we do.  Self-examination is much more difficult, and I hate them both.  I don’t like the feelings of inadequacy that I have when I question myself.  Will I get past this before I’m called to account that final time?  I know that I can’t please everyone, but will I meet my own standards for me?

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and co-authored with his daughter Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Filed under John Stack, life, memory, musings, writing