Thursday, June 30, 2011

June Reading

June wasn't a very good month for reading. Early on, I was feeling so sick that I didn't have the energy to pick up a book. But I did manage to read three:

Alone and Alive by Janet Boyanton. Reviewed this month on this blog.

The Empowered Patient by Elizabeth Cohen. Also reviewed earlier this month.

Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton. This book was inspired by the life of A.A. Milne's son, who apparently never came to terms with being the model for Christopher Robin. In Elton's book, the main character's father modeled the young boy in a series called The Hayseed Chronicles on him. As the books become world-famous, the son deals with his own response to fame. It's a quirky book. The first half was interesting, but the book gradually lost steam. The most intriguing part was Mr. Toppit the sinister and elusive character in the Hayseed Chronicles. If you want to know more, there's apparently a website about these imaginary books. I'd give the book a B.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jeopardy: Here are the Questions

1. What is a Portuguese water dog?

2. Who are the Brontes?

3. Who is Lurch?

4. What is semaphore?

5. Who is Anne Hathaway?

6. What is covalent? or What is electrovalent?

7. What are mouse ears?

8. What is "The Shining?"

9. What is the ponderosa pine?

10. What is the IPod?

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I love Jeopardy. This year my daughter gave me a 365 day Jeopardy calendar. So far I've made $92,200 imaginary dollars supplying answers to Jeopardy questions. I'm shooting for $150,000. Then maybe I'll take an imaginary trip around the world.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to throw out some answers from my calendar and you can see how much you win. Leave your responses in the Comment section. I'll supply the correct, questions tomorrow. Each is worth $1000. Get them all right and you've won $10,000 imaginary dollars. Remember, your answers must be in the form of a question.

1. A giftr from Ted Kennedy to the Obamas, first dog Bo is this breed.

2, In this family, sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne all wrote novels.

3. In the early 60s Maynard G. Drebbs would say, "You rang?" Later this Addams family character used it, too.

4. First developed in France in 1794, this system of communication's name is from the Greek for sign bearing.

5.She got an Oscar nomination for her role as the troubled sister in Rachel Getting Married.

6.The two main types of chemical bonds are ionic and this.

7.As a friend of Walt Disney, Roy Williams was the first to put these on a hat.

8.The title of thi 1980 scarefest refers to the telepathic powers of Danny, Jack Nicholson's son in the film.

9. Montana's state tree is this type of pine; Bonanza men called it home.

10.Models of this Apple product have included the Shuffle, the Nano and the Touch.

Good luck!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing to Me is...

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before Widowsphere is Big Ideas. You can find it at The blog featured after Widowsphere is the captivating Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy!

Here are my thoughts on what writing means to me:

When I was four years old, I composed a poem about a chicken, a rabbit and a pig, then announced I would be a writer when I grew up. My parents were impressed but none of us believed my prediction would come true. In my day, when you grew up, you became June Cleaver. You wore your pearls as you vacuumed the living room and made scrumptious meals for Ward and the boys. Maybe you wrote a few notes on your monogrammed stationery, but you certainly didn't have time to sit down at your typewriter and compose a story or an essay, not with all the housework, gardening, mothering, and wife-ing.

But eventually I did become a writer. Romance novels first, then essays, and now I'm shopping a memoir. I can't imagine not writing. When I wrote novels, writing allowed me to escape (I needed to, with 3 teenagers in the house) to imagine, and to think of ways to describe the sex act without using real anatomical terms.

After my husband died, writing gave me an outlet for my grief and anger, a way to fill lonely, empty hours, and a place to preserve my memories.

Now through essays, I can think through problems and issues and perhaps give them a new slant. Blogging began as a means of connecting with and supporting other widows but it's become much more: a chance to express my views on things great and small and an opportunity to meet others who love writing as much as I do.

Life without writing could never be as full as life with writing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 23: International Widows Day

June 23, International Widows Day.

When I first saw this on the Internet, I thought, "So now we get a day? Is this like Mother's Day? Do we get presents? Cards? Flowers? And from whom?"

Or this could be a day for reflecting on our status as widows. A time to try to erase the stereotype of widows as black-clad victims and teach the world to view us as what we really are--survivors. We've had no choice but to survive, to continue our life journeys alone. Most of us have grown braver over the years. Like rocks continually buffeted by wind and rain, we've lost some of the rough edges of early widowhood. We've learned to ignore careless words, to face life challenges. We haven't chosen this path, but here we are, so we're doing our best. Congratulations to us.

The real purpose of International Widows Day is to highlight a day on which the world is asked to focus, if only for 24 hours, on the plight of widows in third world countries. These are women whose problems are so staggering just because they are widowed that we can hardly imagine them. These are women who often must work as virtual slaves, who are villified, raped, ostracized just because their husbands have died. If you're a widow, or even if you aren't, spare a thought and a prayer for these women. Or if you can, contribute some small amount for their welfare. Google International Widows Day for suggestions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Quotes: Ten Quotes about Gardens and Gardening

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view. ~H. Fred Dale

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~Hanna Rion

Gardens are a form of autobiography. ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence. ~Benjamin Disraeli

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day. ~F. Frankfort Moore, A Garden of Peace

It pleases me to take amateur photographs of my garden, and it pleases my garden to make my photographs look professional. ~Robert Brault

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul. ~Linda Solegato

I appreciate the misunderstanding I have had with Nature over my perennial border. I think it is a flower garden; she thinks it is a meadow lacking grass, and tries to correct the error. ~Sara Stein, My Weeds, 1988

Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden. ~Robert Brault,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Planting Joy

For years I've hated my front yard.

Two intruders, bushes we certainly did not plant, appeared one summer near the sidewalk and proceded to grow larger and more unsightly. The "island" in the middle also annoyed me, with its stump of a tree we had cut down, its uninteresting evergreen bushes and its ground cover that somehow never covered the ground. Every time I drove up, I cringed. Well, not every time, but enough to make me think, "This is a widow house--sad."

This year I decided to fix the yard. Not by myself, of course. I called a landscaper who had done some work in the back. When we met, I told him I wanted azaleas. "You can't have them," he said. "I only plant them in yards with a sprinkler system."

I was disappointed. Then I thought about it. Azaleas signal spring in Houston, but how long is our spring? About three weeks, then the azaleas are just large green bushes. So, okay. No azaleas.

Instead, he planted lantana, iris, day lillies, bottle brush, knockout roses, and some other things I can't name. I can't believe how lovely my yard looks now and how it has lifted my spirits this rather depressing summer. Yes, it probably isn't the best summer to plant. Texas is in the midst of the worst drought in history. My water bill will probably put a dent in my finances for the rest of the summer. Unless we have a tropical storm and it starts to rain...but I don't want to think of that. I'm too happy enjoying the newfound beauty around me.

What cheers you? Please leave a comment--they make me happy, too.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Review: Alone and Alive

Alone and Alive: A Practical Guide for Dealing with the Death of Your Husband by Janet Boyanton. Shafer Publishing, P.O. Box 134, Lyons, NJ 07939.

Alone and Alive: Janet Boyanton had me at the title. You've lost your mate, but you are still here. You have a life to live and, hopefully, to make the most of. In the early days the struggle may seem insurmountable, but this little book will help you through. It's the most practical book I've read on making it through widowhood, and believe me, I've read just about all of them.

Janet Boyanton knows whereof she speaks. Her husband died suddenly while on an outing with their nine-year-old son. She intersperses her own story throughout the book as she touches on everything the new widow has to cope with--probate, insurance, social security, mortgage payments. She talks about decisions. Should the widow continue living in the family home? Can she afford it? Is living alone a good idea or not? What about managing all the "stuff" of your husband's--clothes, papers, junk? She touches on managing home repairs, even yard work. Dealing with children's grief, taking care of one's health--everything you can think of is here.

The author is a probate attorney so she has dealt with widowhood professionally as well as personally, and her chapter is probate is one of the most useful.

If you know someone who is recently widowed, this would be a wonderful gift. And if that someone is you, make it a gift to yourself.

Available on Amazon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Relationships, Part 2: Widowhood

Monday I wrote about the conference I attended in Austin and what I took away from it as a writer. Today I want to extend that, because I found that everything I learned about writers' relationships applied to me as a widow as well.

It's all about relationships, isn't it? As a widow, you've lost the most intimate and important relationship you had. Life will never be the same again. Even when your grief subsides a bit, you'll never recapture that same bond. Not even if you remarry.

So what's left?

For me, relationships helped me build the foundation of a new life--not the life I'd have chosen but the only one I have. My family, friends, colleagues gave me support when I needed it most. But, as the writers' conference panelists emphasized, relationships go both ways. I had to learn to stand on my own and not rely on others all the time, even when I wanted to. The past few weeks, wiped out from an upper respiratory infection, I've had an overwhelming urge to pick up the phone, call everyone I know and whine at them. But I haven't--at least not much.

And what does the new social landscape tell us as widows? Facebook gives us a chance to connect with old friends, keep up with far-flung acquaintances and relatives. One of the conference panelists compared Facebook to a family reunion and Twitter to a cocktail party. I don't tweet, so I can't speak to that. But I do know that the Internet has allowed me to expand my relationships. I've met people through the She Writes community, which has a group for every genre, every niche. Through my blog, I've connected with other widows, exchanged ideas with the people who really understand what widowhood is about. Those two connections have become vitally important to me.

I think you have to use this new medium wisely. It's easy to become so engrossed in blogging, tweeting, commenting, linking that you lose sight of why you're doing this in the first place. Don't let it keep you from your real writing or, God forbid, make it a substitute for living.

Be honest and open but be safe. As a widow, you're alone and maybe vulnerable. We hear too many sad tales of people whose lives have been shattered by on-line scams or romances. We've already been through one tragedy; we can't risk another.

But internet friendships haven't replaced real-life friendships--laughing over lunch, sharing jokes only you and your pals "get," making plans, and yes, gossiping. My friendships go back to elementary school. And there's my family. There's no bond that goes so deep. Keep it strong.

Relationships: Part 1

"No man is an island," said John Donne.

No woman is either.

I spent the weekend in Austin at a writer's conference. Yes, there were workshops on e-publishing, self-publishing, tradiditional publishing, on how to craft the perfect pitch, query, synopsis...but more than ever, the emphasis was on crafting relationships.

We think of writing as a solitary professions, of writers as hermits, holed up in their studies with only a computer for company. Not so much, say the experts. Long gone are the days when Thoreau could sit at Walden Pond and think of nothing but nature and writing.

This post will deal with the relationship aspect of writing; tomorrow I want to apply what I learned to widowhood. This is a widow's blog, after all.

For writers, most speakers stressed the importance of social media to a writer's success. It's crucial to be accessible. When I wrote romance, I used to get fan mail every now and then. It takes time for a reader to sit down, write a letter, find an address and put the letter in the mail. Now, in 30 seconds a reader can send off an e-mail, comment on a blog, like a page on Facebook or tweet directly to an author. You the writer can post your news, pub date, upcoming releases, even pictures of the dog that inspired a character in your latest novel.

Relationships extend to agents, editors, publishers, publicists, book store owners, media outlets...I guess, the world. Yes, writers, the world is at your fingertips.

In many ways this is quite wonderful; in others, scary. We are never alone, never far from public scrutiny. If you don't want it on YouTube, don't do it. Don't even think it.

The most important thing I took away from all this was that relationships are not to be abused. They're two-way. If you think of your relationships as only something to use for your own benefit, you're missing the message. Like all good friendships, they are as much about giving as getting. If you let readers in on your world, make sure you're as honest with these people you can't see as you are with your best friend. Make sure you are respectful of people who take the time to reach out to you.

The guy who was sitting next to me at a workshop, gestured toward the panel of agents who were set to speak. "They think we're the enemy," he remarked. I disagreed. I don't think he got it. In this world, there are no enemies. We're all allies and must treat one another as such.

And how to I apply this to widowhood? Stop back tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tuesday Quote for the Week

This dovetails nicely with yesterday's post:

"Eating without conversation is only stoking."
Marcelene Cox

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Restaurant Babble

I confess. I love to eat. And, although I enjoy cooking, I love to go out to eat even more. I like the atmosphere of a fancy "in" restaurant, the feeling that I'm part of the crowd of sophistocated foodies. And yes, I also like down home hamburger joints, chain restaurants, and cozy neighborhood bistros. I've even been known to enjoy an airport concourse meal (but not too often).

What I don't like is NOISE. I don't want to have to shout across the table to make my companions understand, to cup my ears to half-hear what they're saying. I want a relaxing conversation to go with my nice meal, not an exhausting melee of clattering dishes, clinking wine glasses, giggling diners, intruding music. If I wanted all that clatter, I'd go to a Little Leagus game. Or the upcoming Britney Spears concert.

You know why so many people in these places are texting? Because THEY CAN'T HEAR EACH OTHER SPEAK.

It can't be because I'm a senior citizen. Surely other people want to communicate with their dinner partners in some other way besides shouts, grunts and sign language.

Why, oh why do the classiest of restaurants have to add to the noise level with high, hard ceilings, uncarpeted floors, lack of acoustic tile? Yeah, it makes them seem busier and livelier when the noise level increases--wow, this place is really hot--and maybe you eat faster to get out of there and into a quiet car or even a motorcyle. I guess it's good for business, but not for mine. I've been to several hot spots in Houston lately and my friends and I decided to cross them off our to-go list and come up with a list of "quiet dining for adults restaurants" in the Houston area. I'm thinking of enlisting the help of the Whine and Dine column in the Houston Chronicle, or starting a blog on quiet eating.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thursday Review: The Empoered Patient by Elizabeth Cohen

An unlikely birthday gift but a useful and appreciated one, The Empowered Patient by CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, is a book that belongs on everyone's shelf. It contains commonsense information on how to find "Dr. Right" and some red flags that you may be getting "Dr. Wrong," suggestions on questions to ask during a doctor visit, information on dealing with insurance companies and drug companies, how to stay healthy or at least not get sicker if you're hospitalized. Do you know if your doctor is prescibing a medication produced by a company with which he/she has some financial involvement? Suggestions on how to find out are listed. Best of all, the book contains an appendix with a worksheet to bring to medical appointments and a list of useful websites on evaluating physicians and hospitals. The internet is an ocean of medical and faux-medical information; this book helps patients use it sensibily.

As I think back to my husband's year long battle with leukemia, I regret having not been as empowered as I might have been. From my own experience, I have some additional suggestions. One thing I learned was to bring a tape recorder to medical appointments to be sure we really did understand what was said in the midst of stressful sessions, to take someone with us so we could have another pair of ears, perhyaps a more objective opinion on what went on.

Time pressure is often a serious concern especially when dealing with critical illlnesses or medical emergencies. Sometimes we jump into or get pushed into a solution without having time to think it through. Finding out what is a realistic interval for making far-reaching decisions is important and may be life-changing.

If you have suggestions for becoming a more empowered patient, bring them on.
And thanks to my friend Lynn for the book.

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