poetry · Writing


The writing wasn’t brilliant for Hot Dogs and Marmalade;
The draft folder overflowed with posts that were half-made.
Then when another prompt went by, a photo challenge, too —
The proprietress of the sorry blog wondered what to do.

Another day, another fail, another fruitless quest;
Yet still she clung to hope which springs eternal in the breast;
She thought, if only I could find a quote that tickled at the heart –
I think that I could pull it off, if I but had a start.

But Pascal obfuscated, as did Saint Benedict,
(the former was an intellect, the latter just too strict)
So upon that foggy brain grim melancholy sat,
For she had found no resonance, only quotes that fell quite flat.

From a few subscribers there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled on the Macbook, it rattled in the Dell;
It knocked upon ol’ Facebook — well, that’s not really true.
It probably went unnoticed! It’s okay if I withdrew.

‘Cause life is very busy. I’ve got toilets to unclog,
Question-answering by the hour — and don’t forget the dog.
Grocery shopping, laundry washing and vacuuming to do;
Cook the dinner, wash the dishes. (Oh, yeah — the kids help too.)

Let me tell you there are days when I try to write some prose
But then my father needs some help, because he can’t get on his clothes.
And when my darling children ask for help with school,
I lose what patience I possess. Yes, I lose my cool.

Fraud!” cry the readers, and the echo answers fraud;
“You say you are a Christian. You say that you love God!
You say that you’re a writer. You think you’re super-Mom.
If you were any of those things, I think you’d keep your calm.”

pssst…. Please lean in closely. I’ve a secret I must tell:
Some days I feel quite zombie-ish when life’s not going well.
But feeling dead and being dead are two very different things
And I’ve a heart within which hope continually springs

Because, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere folks are laughing, men raise a glass and toast;
And there’s even joy on WordPress — I published a cheesy post.



I found myself listening carefully not so much to what the young doctor was saying as how he was saying it.

“How is your appetite?” he asked, the first three words slightly higher in pitch than the one that preceded it.

But appetite —  I thought about finding a piece of scrap paper to write down the way he pronounced it so I could remember it properly and recreate it. I think it was ah-PET-it.

My father understood and answered appropriately. Well, almost. He looked at me, repeating the question as he did. “My appetite?”

I nodded a yes — yes, that was the question, and yes, his appetite is good.

“I have no problem with my appetite,” he said, and patted his stomach.

“How is your weight?” the doctor asked, but he pronounced the w as a v — like vayt.

My father looked at me, questioningly.

“Your vayt. Your vayt,” repeated the doctor.

“He’s asking about your weight, Dad,” I translated, a little surprised that my father had deciphered appetite but not weight.

“Oh! My weight is fine,” my father answered, and the exam went on.

The young doctor with jet-black hair, soft hands, and mostly perfect English was from Pakistan. Pah-ki-stahn, as he pronounced it.

There are times I wish I had an invisibility cloak, so I could listen, unnoticed, to the way people from different parts of the world talk.

In Bosnia, I didn’t pay close enough attention. I think I need to go back and try again.

Once I had an on-line discussion on the pronunciation of the word LABORATORY.  It turns out that laboratory can have anywhere from three to five syllables, depending on where the speaker is from.

It also turns out that there are dozens of videos on how to pronounce that one word. Crazy.

I watched some of the videos and found my favorite — partly because the video itself has nothing to do with the audio, and partly because I can picture one of my sons playing the semi-gory game shown.

For the record, I say LAB-ra-tor-ee.

And AP-a-tite.



poetry · Writing

Tell Me Something Good

A friend said, “Write a poem,” to help me start writing again.


So I pulled up a poem that had been sitting in my draft folder and tried to finish it. It’s not perfect but Brené Brown says that we should have the courage to be imperfect. With a little courage, I give you this —

“Tell me something good,” she said
“Please tell me something cheery.”
The corners of her mouth turned down;
Her eyes were slightly teary.
Teenage girling is the worst —
Well, that’s my working theory.

My mind returned to dark things thought
When I was still a teen
Of feeling that I just don’t fit
Of watching pretties preen
Of wishing I were different
Of people being mean

She said, “Tell me a good story —
A princess-dragon tale
With a female superhero
Who tries so hard and fails
Then with grit and perseverance
She finally prevails.”

I remembered watching her go out
And our lawn just lie
Watching jet trails drawing lines
Across a summer sky;
I imagined an adventure
Where she’s a secret spy

Who, by studying that one small thing —
The white smoke on the blue —
She deciphered secret messages
Most people wouldn’t view
Because they’re too busy doing stuff —
Do I do that? Do you?

The world is sometimes cold and cruel
And difficult to beat
But through stories we see bravery,
Learn ways we can defeat
The demon dogs who hound us
And the challenges we meet

“Tell me something good,” she said.
I thought, and then replied,
“Let’s look at something little —
Autumn leaves or dragonflies —
Let’s find the beauty, make a story.”
And so we walked outside.

photography · Travel · Writing

Fun With Google Translate

I have a word problem. I really, really like words. A lot.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that on my trip to the Balkans I took pictures of words to look up later.

Nor should it come as a surprise that I can spend hours playing with Google Translate.

Forget squirrels or shiny things — these are the rabbit trails I follow for amusement.

For instance, this photograph was taken of the tray back on my Croatian Air flight.

I recognized molimo vas from the language app I used before the trip. It means please. However, I wanted to figure out the rest of the words even though the translation was right below it.

Vežite se dok sjedite means Sit while you are sitting. (Google Translate: Croatian to English) But vežite, by itself, get translated tiePerhaps the literal translation is something about tying yourself in your seat?

The one time I was brave enough to use Croatian was in the Franciscan monastery in the Old City Dubrovnik. “Dvije,” I said to the man at the ticket table, indicating that I wanted two tickets.

“For that you get in free,” he said, in perfect English. He was delighted that I attempted Croatian.

Inside, we visited a beautiful garden and an art gallery. A war scar was framed on the wall.

Udar granate means A missile shot according to the sign below.  Google Translate (GT) says it means grenade attack. Close, I guess, but different.

This one is a mystery.

GT translates ĆIVU FRANA CUNDULIĆA NAROD means THE LIVING OF FRANCA CUNDULIĆA NAROD so maybe it’s a person’s name.

But if I drop the capitalization, the same words mean  a living shroud of crowds of people.

If I drop the “narod” because it’s on a separate line, and just look at the first line in all small letters, it means (according to GT) some cranium brake or the black break crank.

I kind of thought our guide said it was a music hall, but who knows?

I used the public restroom at The Tunnel of Hope Museum outside Sarajevo. There I encountered my first squatty potty. It caught me by surprise, especially when my phone fell out of my pocket. Ew. Thank goodness it didn’t fall in. I took a picture of the toilet itself to show my children, and then this one of the sign on the tank to see how it translated out.

Molimo ne bacajte papir u wc šolju, već u kantu za smeće translates to Please do not throw paper in the toilet, already in a garbage can (GT: Bosnian to English) Not bad, really.

Last, a tee shirt.

I have no idea what the guy thought when I snapped this picture. This was after the soccer game (fudbalski) — and it looked like one of those “I’m with Stupid” shirts.

GT defaulted to German for Er heiratet, translating them he marries.

We were in Bosnia at the time, so I tried to force a Bosnian translation — but GT said it meant Er hieratet.

The other team was from Croatia, so I checked the Croatian translation, and GT said, That’s a heir. I thought GT would know that it should be an, not a. But I’ll forgive GT because the words were, after all, German.

GT couldn’t translate Wir sind nur sum saufen hier from Bosnian or Croatian. In German, however, the words meant we’re just drinking here.

A groomsmen shirt. Wedding humor.

When words are playthings, and Google Translate is available, fun is all around. I found that on my trip.

photography · Writing

A is for Appetite (Or, 5 Things About Zombies)

Please forgive this post. I blame it on my brother and the fact that I’ve been struggling to write.

“Why don’t you write ’10 Things About Zombies’?” my brother suggested.

“I don’t know ten things about zombies,” I said.

“Make them up,” he said, but I couldn’t think of anything.

“Zombies are dead,” I told him.

“You need to come up with something more interesting,” he replied.


So I tried.

I came up with five facts, but the first one is really a correction.

Zombie Fact #1: Zombies are not dead; they are undead.

Cee Neuner is starting a weekly photo challenge called “Alphabet with a Twist.”  For the next 26 weeks, she’ll feature a different letter ~~ with a twist ~~ for her Fun Foto Challenge.

Maybe it’s because I’m a little twisted myself — but, I felt like I could commit to this challenge.

A (with a twist) is Ap. The photo needs to feature something that begins with the letters “Ap.”

I’m adding my own second requirement for this challenge. I’m going to use old family pictures.

Zombie Fact #2: Zombies don’t like to be photographed. Most zombie photos are staged and not real.

A few years ago, I started scanning my father’s slides to get them into a digital format. All of the photographs in this post were taken by my father before I was even born. Not staged. 100% real. No zombies.

So…. A is for Appetite.

Zombie Fact #3: Zombies like watermelon.

Watermelon is red and juicy. If you look at zombie pictures (which I know are staged) they often have red juicy stuff running down their chin. Watermelon, while not the consistency of brains or flesh, looks appetizing enough to fool your average zombie.

My mother told me that watermelon was sometimes soothing for a child that was teething. I like to think that’s why she was feeding it to Stewart in this picture, but she may have kept watermelon on hand in case of zombie attack.

Stewart eating watermelon

Zombie Fact #4: Zombies are delighted when they see a baby with food on his or her face.

Zombies really aren’t so different from the rest of us. What parent hasn’t taken a picture of junior with spaghetti on his head or chocolate ice cream smeared all over his face?

For zombies, though, they find it attractive because they identify with it. Most zombies have lost their swallow reflex. Remember the zombie pictures with red liquid dripping down their chin? Well, they can’t help it. Their swallow reflex died with them and didn’t come back to life. That’s why they talk the way they do. That’s why they eat the way they do. When they see a baby with food all over his face, they think he’s one of them. They feel a kinship.

Stewart with food on his face

This can actually be used to a family’s advantage when under attack. Hold the food-covered baby in plain view while the rest of the family slowly backs out of a room invaded by zombies. The zombies will be so enamored that they won’t attack. Once everyone is out the room. Shut the door and run.

This is a picture of my mother feeding Stewart.

He doesn’t have anywhere near enough food on his face to distract zombies. It’s okay. He lived his whole life without a single zombie attack.

My mother and my oldest brother have both passed away but they will never be zombies, because —

Zombie Fact #5: A person who lives a life of service to others can never become a zombie.

My mother and my brother both gave freely and generously of themselves. It’s like a zombie vaccine.

This should serve as a reminder to all.

We should be kind.

We should be generous.

We should put others first.

— if for no other reason than it will keep us from being zombies.



Life · Writing

First Aid

I took a lot of first aid classes back in the day.

First Aid.

Advanced First Aid.

First Aid and CPR.

First Aid for lifeguards who work at camps in the middle of nowhere.

First Aid for ambulance dispatchers.

Okay, I may be making some of those up. But I WAS an ambulance dispatcher at one point in my life. And I worked as a lifeguard at more than one camp in the middle of nowhere. I think my title at one was lifeguard and the other was Aquatics Director, which sounded lofty and important, but I basically did the same job at both camps. Lifeguarded.

My grandmother came to visit me at one of the camps where I lifeguarded.

My one rescue in all my years of lifeguarding was at a camp. A little boy with Down Syndrome zipped past me while I unlocked the gate to the pool. He jumped right into the deep end. His eyes widened when he realized he couldn’t touch the bottom, and, as he floundered there, I reached in, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the side. I actually didn’t need any lifeguarding classes to do what I did in that moment. It was all instinct. After that, his counselor made sure he had on his lifejacket before they headed to the pool.

Once, when I was coaching high school girls, I had a swimmer that had donated blood earlier in the day. Her puncture wound from donating opened while she was swimming and started bleeding. A lot.

“C’mon out,” I told her, and placed my hand firmly over the wound to apply pressure.

Meanwhile, another swimmer started feeling light-headed from the sight of the blood. “Stay at the wall,” I called over my shoulder to the woozy girl as I walked the bleeding swimmer to a bench. A couple of swimmers stayed with Woozy.

I wondered where the lifeguard was when I saw her hurrying toward me, pulling on latex gloves as she came. I looked at my hand on the girl’s arm. I was holding the arm up while she lay on the wooden bench. I had blood on my fingers. There was blood rivulets down her arm. A trail of blood drops led from the pool to the bench.

The lifeguard stopped. She blew her whistle and cleared the pool, helping Miss Light-Headed out and shepherded the girls away from all the blood.

My first First Aid classes had been pre-AIDS and pre-blood-borne-illness precautions. My instincts and early classes kicked in long before I thought about getting gloves on. Apply pressure and elevate.

I don’t know if that makes me a good responder or a bad one.

I guess I’m a gut responder.

Then I spend the next ten years second-guessing myself.

Back to Bleh — this morning I thought, I’m going to look at the Daily Prompt, and if I’m inspired, I’ll write. The prompt was “Puncture,” and I immediately thought of Sucking Chest Wounds — doesn’t everybody?

I had learned about them in First Aid a long time ago, and found them fascinating, although I always thought it a little silly to learn about them because they fell into the category of Probably-Information-I-Will-Never-Use.

The initial title for this post was “Sucking Chest Wounds,” but when I started writing, well, you see what came out. Nary a word about sucking chest wounds.


And no good conclusion.

Double bleh.



“Everything I write is stupid,” I told the girls the other night. “I need to just stop.”

Of course they gave the obligatory, “No, Mom. We like it.”

But I was all phooey-on-everything.

Laurel said, “What if you just didn’t write every day?”

Now there’s a novel idea.

Some things feel a little wrong to write about — like my father’s decline. As cathartic as it was to write about my mother, the catharsis isn’t there this time. It documents, I suppose, like this morning’s conversation —

Dad: I had the strangest phone call this morning. I answered the phone and nobody was there.

Me: What phone did you answer?

Dad: The phone in my bedroom. It rang at 7 AM.

Me: You don’t have a phone in your bedroom.

Dad: Well, nobody was on the other end.

It’s such a sad documentation.

A lot of other things fall into the does-anyone-really-care-about-this category.

Like the indigo bunting that flew into the window the other day. While it lay stunned on the deck, I took this picture, so I could look it up to identify it. When the cat came trotting up the ramp, I ran out the door to shoo her into the house so she wouldn’t bother the bird. Then I picked up the bird and moved him to a safer place. He perched on my finger after I scooped my hand beneath, and he weighed about as much as popped popcorn. I placed him where I could see him from inside. About an hour later, he flew away. A fascinating story — with no point at all.

Sometimes writing feels so bleh.

A hiatus is in order.

Or, at the least, a taper.



Uncategorized · Writing

Dr. Purple

Last week Mary and I went to a “talk” at the library.

I had seen the sign posted at the grocery store and taken a picture of it so I would remember to mention it to Mary.

But on Tuesday, March 14, everything was shut down in honor of Snowstorm Stella. I didn’t leave the house except to shovel for two days. By Thursday, the travel restrictions had been lifted and I made a trip to the grocery to pick up essentials. Someone had crossed out the date and handwritten Thursday, March 16, above it.

It turns out that someone was the local librarian. He went to every poster and changed the date.

And I was fortunate enough to see it in time.

Mary and I drove in to town and parked in front of the library that night. The snow was piled high and very few people were out and about — still. Stella was a doozy.

It turns out that Mary and I were two of six people, one of them the speaker, who ventured out that night.

We met at a rectangular table. One of the men quipped, “We need to change our name.”

The rest of the attendees were men. All over the age of 50.

Mary felt a little awkward, I could tell. They all knew each other. They talked about this and that, things familiar to them. Mary and I spoke in low voices to each other.

“You okay?” I asked her.

“Yep,” she said.

We’re both the kind of people who like to sit in the back unnoticed, but that was not going to happen at the Nights at the Round Rectangular Table.

The speaker spoke about different types of local histories, using books pulled from the library shelves for examples. A memoir. A book of old photographs. His own scholarly work about the history of a local township.

At the very end, he asked the librarian about checking out his book.

“You’re checking out your own book?” I asked.

He reddened slightly. “I’m in the middle of a move and all my books are boxed up.”

Before that, when he had finished his prepared words and taken a few questions, he asked, “Now I’d like to know why you came to this.” He turned to the man at his left who gave some answer that indicated that he was a regular at these affairs.

Mary was next. She looked like she was feeling more than a little awkward. She had already been put on the spot a few times during the discussion because she was so obviously the youngest person in the room. I tried to help her out.

“She loves history,” I said. “I saw the sign at the store and asked her if she was interested.”

They wanted to know what kind of history, what era, what she wanted to study. I think the whole reason the question had been asked in the first place was to find out what would bring a 17-year-old girl out on a snowy winter night to a talk about history.

“She brought me,” Mary said, pointing at me.

“And I came because of her,” I said, pointing back at Mary.

We both laughed. The men around the table chuckled. “I guess they each blame the other,” one of them said.

“Tell them about Dr. Purple,” Mary said.

Few topics are as interesting to me as Dr. Purple, a physician in Greene, NY, in the 1800s. When I first learned that Greene had a physician named Dr. Purple, I thought it would make a great children’s book. I started researching him.

One of the men at the table said, “Dr. Purple from Greene? That sounds like a children’s book.”

“That’s what I thought,” I told him, and I launched into telling them some of the interesting things I had learned about the man.

His life was messy, imperfect, but ultimately good. He was much loved by the townspeople.

Telling the men that night about Dr. Purple — and seeing their interest in his story — fanned the little flame of interest I keep burning for him.

The speaker gave me some suggestions on how to write such a book.

Maybe I’ll pull out my notes again and start organizing them.


dementia · elderly · family · poetry · Writing

The Grandmother’s New Pants

A friend who is helping care for an elderly relative told me about one evening when she went to visit her aunt and she found her wearing no pants.  It reminded me of a poem I had written when my mother did something similar.

Here’s my poem:


My mother had no pants on
When she came down the stairs.
The funny thing about it was
It seemed she didn’t care.

The Emperor’s New Clothes became
The Grandmother’s New Pants –
Invisible clothes or missing –
I took another glance.

My children both politely
Turned their backs to her.
Modesty would dictate
Their behavior be demure.

“Mom, you need some pants on!”
“I know,” was all she said.
She settled in the kitchen,
Looking to be fed.

“Go put some pants on now,”
I commanded best I could.
“I will,” she said, but sat there,
So I didn’t think she would.

My father finally got her
To get up and find some pants.
I thought (but didn’t do)
A little happy dance.

Sometimes I let my toddlers
Run around with legs quite bare.
A child in only diapers
Would never get a stare.

But a grannie wearing panties,
Well, that’s a different sight.
Embarrassing for all involved —
It simply isn’t right.

So, help me, Lord, to understand
What is it I should do
When my mother comes down pantless
And doesn’t seem to have a clue.

It took some work for me to find the poem for my friend. I’ve started and stopped a number of blogs under various names.

Once I went through and started systematically deleting everything I had ever written — a self-inflicted devastation.

A lot of my writing is lost forever.


Honestly, who cares? They’re just words.

I console myself with that fact that far more important words — words written by Jesus Himself in the dirt (John 8)  — are forever gone.

Yesterday, on a forum, someone asked this question: “…what are the favorite blog posts you have written? Perhaps not the ones that have generated the most traffic, though it could be that, but the ones that reveal you.”

Believe it or not, I thought of this little poem. Actually, I thought of a few little poems I’ve written. I still can’t find one of them.

But when words and life are hard, poetry — dumb little rhyming poems — give a structure and a lightness to my thoughts.

Does that happen to anyone else?

family · Life · Writing


The other day a friend posted on Facebook a rejection she had received for poetry submitted for publication.

She is a wonderful poet and writer, and I ached because a rejection feels like, well, a rejection — a failure — and she is not a failure.

How do we measure success? I asked myself — and, in a flash, I saw the scene that I wrote out below. It’s a totally made up story, kind of like a nightmare — but here it is for what it’s worth.

“Thank you for filling out the questionnaire,” the doctor said, studying the paper in front of him. He was checking off my answers with a pencil. I felt like it was more a quiz, than a get-to-know-you form for the first visit.

“You prefer to be called Sally?” he asked, looking up at me.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. I smiled at him, but he was already looking back down at the paper.

“Height, okay… Weight,” he looked up at me again. “You might want to lose a few pounds.”

“I know,” I said, “but things have been stressful lately, and I stress-eat…” My voice trailed off. I was hoping for a bye, but he just kept going down the list.

“You noted that you’re a writer,” he said, looking up again.

“I did?!” I said, questioningly because I didn’t remember putting that down.

He picked the paper up and turned it toward me, his finger pointing at a fill-in-the-blank mid-page. In my handwriting, next to the word “employment,” was the word “writer.”

“Oh,” I stammered, “I’m not really a writer. I don’t know why I wrote that.”

“Do you write?” he asked.

“I guess,” I said.

“Have you submitted pieces for publication?” he asked.

“A few, I guess, a long time ago.”

“How many times have you been rejected?” he asked. It was more of a demand.

I squirmed uncomfortably. What was this all about? I wondered.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t understand. Why do you need to know this?”

He glared at me.

“Can I change my answer?” I asked.

“Real writers have a pile of rejections,” he said. “I think changing your answer would be wise.”

He picked up a pen and neatly crossed out my response, then sat with pen poised waiting for my new answer. “Employment?” he asked.

“Umm.. I’m mostly a mom,” I said.

“How many children do you have?” he asked.

“Eight,” I told him.  I found myself sitting a little straighter in the chair now. Surely this would impress the man.

“How many times have they broken your heart?” he asked.

“What?!” I asked.

“You know, how many times have they fallen, made bad choices, or failed?” he said.

“I thought you would want to hear about their successes. They’re doing pretty well,” I said.

“Real mothers have their hearts broken on a regular basis. They start off putting bandaids on skinned knees and move on to bruised egos and hurt feelings. They ache with their children. I’m trying to determine if you are a real mother,” he said, and then he repeated his question. “How many times have they broken your heart?”

I thought of the many emergency room visits, the hospitalizations, the times I stood outside a bedroom door and prayed for the child inside. I thought the listening and the insufficient advice I tried to give. I thought of skinned knees, skinned hands, stitches in the head, broken bones, tears, tears, tears, and more tears. I thought of driving when called for help and crying all the way, dropping kids off for college and crying all the way home, and watching them get married and crying for joy.

“How many times have they broken your heart?” he asked for the third time.

“None,” I said.